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Story, Gertrude.

Saskatoon. Thistledown Press, c1986. 127pp, paper, ISBN 0-920633-20-X (cloth) $22.00, 0-920633-21-8 (paper) $10.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Dianne Clipsham

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

Gertrude Story dedicates her book to, among others, those "who began to sing too little and too late until guided by Isaac Bashevis Singer." Story, herself, was fifty-two years of age when her first book was published (The Book of Thirteen, Thistledown, 1981) and this is her fourth collection of stories in three years, so she may be a late bloomer, but she blooms continuously. In Black Swan she has again drawn on her German-Canadian background and her life in rural Saskatchewan.

Gerda Beckmann, the "black swan" of the title, is the narrator of the short stories, which are as inextricably linked as are the stories of Alice Munro with which they share a somewhat gothic sensibility. Each of the stories in the first third of the book is Gerda's attempt to document the loss of a family member or friend (as in "A Careful Dance"), yet each is strong enough to stand alone. Several, in fact, have been previously published, in such places as Grain, Dandelion, and Oberon's Best of. . . anthologies, as well as broadcast on CBC. These are the most easily accessible for two reasons: their superb craftsmanship and because the reader can identify with Gerda as the repressed and suppressed daughter with a writer's sensibility and vision. Unfortunately, Gerda lacks a kindred spirit in the real world following the death of her mentor, teacher, and friend, Mr. Begley, and she sinks into despair. The "pain of knowing things" finally overwhelms her, and her inner voice, "Isaac," takes her deeper into a fantasy world of spirits, those of her family, her father's stallion (the cause of her sister's death), a centaur, and then a unicorn.

Later, the collective guilt of being German mixes with the personal guilt associated with watching her father torment her family, driving her into "Darkness," the most painful story for the narrator, and for the reader. This love-hate relationship with her father is epitomized by the words written over her heart in the Crystal Palace of the spirit world: "When they are too beautiful for killing, let them live."

The later stories, taking place entirely in the dark mind of Gerda, lack the power of the earlier, equally tragic ones. Nevertheless, Black Swan is recommended for libraries that attempt to have a representative collection of that Canadian specialty, the short story.

Dianne Clipsham, A. Y. Jackson S.S., Kanata, Ont.
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