CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Story, Gertrude.

Saskatoon, Thistledown Press, c1985. 196pp, paper, ISBN 0-920633-00-5 (cloth) $25.00, 0-920633-01-3 (paper) $12.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Pamela Black

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

Gertrude Story is a well-known poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist from Saskatoon. In 1983 she published The Way to Always Dance (Thistledown), a collection of short stories that weave in and out around the life of Alvena Schroeder, a character who is a prairie-dwelling German-Canadian, like Story herself. It Never Pays to Laugh Too Much (Thistledown 1984), was the next book in this series, which followed Alvena Schroeder through her childhood and adolescence. Now, The Need of Wanting Always fills out the trilogy, tracing Alvena to her death and, in fact, beyond. There are strong connections and echoes between these three books, but most significantly, there is a lulling poetic quality present in all Story's work that runs through private thoughts and meanderings without letting us feel that we are trespassing or intruding. Story's skill is that she does not allow the personal to become esoteric or unstructured. She writes with all of us in mind.

This is particularly miraculous when one considers the possibility that some, or all of the characters in this book are crazy. Alvena has a lover who talks away many a night to two Clydesdales who are not really there. He disappears, but comes back in time to die in her arms. She has a dead lover who was her half-brother (and "shot his own head off with an unloaded gun") who talks to her all the time (sometimes in the form of horses who also are not really there). She has a husband, whom she is not particularly fond of, who also dies in her arms. She raises a child, who is not really hers, for five years, who also disappears. The magic is that readers go wherever Story takes them. We do not even know how old Alvena is, or much else about her for the first half of the book, but we believe in her and we follow her. Her thoughts seem SO natural that craziness does not appear to be what this book is about at all. It is not about the ghosts that visit Alvena, materializing to a greater or lesser extent. It is, instead, about the gentle lessons that the ghosts teach.

David, Alvena's lover/brother, loved her but did not need her. The fact that he died "not-needing" makes Alvena think of him as always peaceful; he died a "good" death despite the freakish circumstances surrounding it. David returns again and again to prepare Alvena for the eventuality of her own death. We come to see with her that "the need of wanting always" is the state of being alive. It is wanting your loved ones close by and feeling desperation at the loss of them. It is a state that Alvena is loath to part with, and thus, as her nephew tells her corpse at the end of the novel, she wants "too little too much." Even after death she clings to the human ideals of camaraderie, love and sharing, and she cannot think in the grander terms of the infinite, where this wanting and needing self is lost. Alvena's final victory is both humorous and beautiful and Story deals exceptionally well with the after-death motif that is so often awkwardly treated in literature. This is a very captivating treatment of one individual's glance within, and enterprising English teachers could make much of it in advanced literature classes.

Pamela Black, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works