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Norman Levine.

Ottawa, Deneau Publishers, n.d.
119pp, paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-88879-100-3.


Reviewed by Tony Cosier.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

In bringing together these six stories and one novella, Deneau Publishers add a fifth volume to their collection of Norman Levine's work. Though all but one of the stories is a reprint from work previously published in book form in the sixties, the prose is similar in style and tone to the work Levine is currently reading from his most recent manuscripts.

All the stories in this volume are set in English seaside towns. "The Playground," which makes up approximately half the book, satirizes the empty life of the artsy jet set. Levine depicts a human wasteland, drifting through a dozen thin characters, casting a cold eye on their pretensions, dissipations, and vacuous amours. The death of one of their number, a pathetic suicide followed by a funeral that none of the other characters attends, becomes the author's final comment, that and the sight of "discarded Christmas trees floating in the harbour to be swept out to sea."

Much of the material in "The Playground" is presented from the viewpoint of Bill Stringer, a writer. As such, it prepares for the central characters in the other six stories. Each is a writer, and each of a type so consistent the reader must strongly suspect it is Levine himself that one is intended to see, despondent, poor, a burden to his wife, a disappointment to his family, an exile from his Jewish-Canadian roots.

Levine handles description well. His physical details are deftly contoured and precise. Even his generally flat view of humanity becomes more energetic when he can place his figure in a scene: the boy kicking a soccer ball up a sloped street, the farmer releasing pigeons. Levine seems to cherish these glimpses of simple life like nuggets.

Levine's major narrative strength is irony. Sometimes this can be as direct as a straight statement, as in the simple line, "We had a little luck," luck in the form of a neighbour's relative's death supplying a windfall of food for a writer's impoverished family. Usually the irony is so subtle it takes the context of an entire story to bring it out. "The Dilettantes" has an effectively ironic ending, with an easy snub in keeping with the whole tenor of the story turning itself into profound insight.

Like the bell he describes in a church tower, Levine rings a "very clear and melancholy" comment.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H. S., Nepean, ON.
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