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Helen Fogwell Porter

St. John's (Nfld.), Breakwater, 1991. 121pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 1-55081-011-1. CIP

Grades 9 and up/Ages 14 and up
Reviewed by Barbara Camfield.

Volume 19 Number 4
1991 September

Most of the thirteen stories that appear in this first short story collection by Newfoundland writer Helen Porter have been published previously in a variety of local and national magazines. Since she began to write professionally in 1963, Helen Porter has published short stories, poetry, radio plays and the award-winning novel for young adults, January, February, June or July. Her favourite medium is the short story.

All but one of the stories in this collection have women as their main characters. Porter portrays women in many stages of their lives: the adoles­cent experiences the awkwardness, anxiety, and heartbreak of first love; the career woman is concerned with the way her life has developed without children and husband; the middle-aged mother worries about the way her children are turning out; and the seventy-year-old contemplates suicide in the face of the sickness and useless-ness associated with old age.

The outport and its isolation figure strongly in 'The Summer Visitors," "O Take Me as I am," "Moving Day" and "Wintergreen." Other stories take place in less clearly defined locales: small towns, homes and, in one case, a communal living arrangement for seniors.

Taken singly these stories do not necessarily leave you with a strong impression of the loneliness and isolation of the heroines. However, the mood of the collection as a whole is one of quiet despair. These women feel intensely an inability to communicate with spouses and children, a regret of the inevitable passage of time, a fear of old age, an inability to make significant change in their lives, and a dissociation from self. They tend to self-pity rather than to resolution and action.

Porter frequently uses the technique of framing to allow the main character to delve into the past and reveal the major pieces in her life's story. This narrative technique is overused in the collection, and the reader readily predicts that the narrative will unfold the more interesting past through the present situation. Some of the more memorable stories are those which display Porter's skilful use of lengthy dialogue, such as "Mainly Because of the Meat" and "The Plan." Librarians will enjoy Eva's fantasies in "Eva" about the clients in the public library and will wonder if Porter does not have work experience in libraries herself.

The publisher should have taken greater care with the table of contents. Only the first three stories have the correct page numbers.


Barbara Camfield, National Library of Canada,Ottawa, Ont.
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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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