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Barry Dempster

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1989.191pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-758-1 (cloth) $29.95, 0-88750-760-3 (paper) $15.95.

Reviewed by Katheryn Broughton.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

In this, his second collection of short stories, Dempster explores the lives of the residents of a short street on the Scarborough Bluffs (in suburban Toronto). As the author moves from the perspectives of various characters in one home after another, he finds pathos, courage, the exotic, and the bizarre in the seeming trivialities of ordinary existence.

June Evans, in "Love Story," secretly reads the story her son is writing about her as he attempts to understand his parents' divorce. Rather than speaking to Jeffrey directly, she takes pages of his manuscript and places them on his bed in the shape of a human figure. She then draws a large question mark on an unused sheet of paper and puts it where the heart should be. Jeffrey receives the message but cannot respond. This image could be used in all the stories—the heart of each protagonist remains a mystery to both family members and neighbours.

The best example of this inability to communicate is in "A Little Apple" in which DiDi needs the sense of risk she finds in unusual settings for making love. Her husband, Walt, is weary of their athletic sex life, longing only to be a father, yet unable to say so to his childless-by-choice wife.

Similarly, Tammy, in 'The Wheelchair", sees herself as "a soul caught in a body." Unable to function because of severe disability and finding no adequate way to express the grief of being technically alive but physically as numb as her mode of transportation, she identifies with her wheelchair.

The final title, "Scenes from a Street Party," ties the collection together as each protagonist sees the event from the narrow perspective of her or his own concerns. Each story in this excellent collection stands on its own merits but the connection of place makes for a special impact.

There are some explicit sexual references in several of the selections which could bring objections from parents of younger adolescents. Therefore, the recommendation is for the adult reader.

Katheryn Broughton, Thornhill, Ont.
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