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Edited by David Helwig and Maggie Helwig. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1987. 192pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-675-5 (cloth) $25.95,0-88750-676-3 (paper) $12.95.

Reviewed by Joan VanSickle Heaton

Volume 16 Number 3
1988 May

The ten short stories in this year's collection are of consistently high quality. This indicates that tough decisions were made in choosing them from a competitive field. Common to most of the stories is the feature of the writer as protagonist. Adherence to this theme must have simplified the editors' choices. The protagonist-writers use various journalistic genres, beginning with the amateur playwright in "Tickets to Spain" and finishing with "The Obituary Writer" who lives and works in Saint John. The effect of this unity of theme is to produce a harmonious whole from these collected works. This result is all the more important because none of the stories fails to leave the reader feeling slightly destabilized, at least at first. The book must be closed between reading the end of one story and the beginning of the next to allow subtleties to percolate through the phases of understanding.

Norman Levine's "Something Happened Here" chronicles a brief visit to modern-day Dieppe, a place with near-mythic meaning to post World War II Canadians, but with a bustling life of its own where one must search hard to find memorials to the war dead. In "The Cost of Living," Kenneth Radu abandons his main character, a thoughtful, earnest father, while his hard-won home vanishes into the mud of a landslide, and his joyless wife approaches full of recrimination. These two stories look at disaster on different scales and from opposite points on the continuum: one after the recovery, and the other from the midst of ongoing, slow-motion destruction.

The writer's vantage point features in two stories. In "Tickets to Spain," a hobby playwright helps turn art into life as he shadows characters in the play he constantly reshapes and never completes. In "The Surgical Procedure," a magazine feature writer ponders the way a biographer can move in and out of the elements of another person's life, selecting choice bits to embellish a story and leaving the subject and his loved ones to battle with the unedited realities.

The cruel neglect of one mother in "The Blue Baby" and the insensitivity of another in "Flight" provide a bleak balance. Settings are not primarily localized in Canada; the stories are about mature topics; the language is mature, as well, without becoming X-rated. For a senior course centred on independent study or Canadian literature, this book is recommended.

Joan VanSickle Heaton, LaSalle Secondary School, Kingston, Ont.
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