________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006


All Sleek and Skimming: Stories.

Lisa Heggum, ed.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
153 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 1-55143-447-4.

Subject Headings:
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Canadian fiction (English) - 21st century.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


His parents weren't very talkative. They didn't chatter; they didn't argue. And yet in the moments while his father unpacked the trunk of his salt-stained Mustang and made his way back and forth up the path Barnsey had shoveled so clean just the night before, Barnsey could hear in his head all the signs and hits stretching back through the months - how far, he wasn't sure. Right up to now, the past few days, with Grandma so attentive. Spoiling him rotten.

Then his father was in the living room, still in his coat, waiting for Barnsey to say something. His face didn't look good but to Barnsey he didn't look anywhere near bad enough, all things considered. Grandma Barrymore was standing behind him with her hand on her son's shoulder. She looked very sad. They waited. Barnsey looked out the window. Old-fashioned lace curtains hung across the living room window. They were always there, even when the drapes were open. Barnsey stood between the lace the cold glass. He turned and looked at his grandma through the veil of the curtain.

"I wish you'd told me," he said.


A collection of short stories, a poem, and two graphic short stories, All Sleek and Skimming is intended to address the gap between children's/pre-teen and adult literature. Lisa Heggum, an OPLA award-winning Toronto Public Library teen services librarian, frustrated with the phenomenon of teens rejecting young adult books, explains in the "Introduction" that she designed the anthology to combine "young adult fiction and adult fiction with teen appeal" by gathering "stories of interest to older teen readers, a neglected group. It recontextualizes young adult literature by associating it with adult literature rather than children's." Included among the 22 authors are names familiar in the Canadian literary landscape: Martha Brooks, Brian Doyle, Anne Fleming, Ivan E. Coyote, Tim Wynne-Jones, James Heneghan, Diana Aspin, Stuart Ross. Brief "Author Biographies" highlight the writers' previous publications, and a "Story Source" listing provides publication details for the selected stories.

     As the excerpt illustrates, the stories embrace the standard set of concerns like family breakup, dysfunctional families and relationships, teenage angst, issues of growing up, loneliness, sex and sexuality, abuse, love, self-respect, suicide, homosexuality, incest, teen pregnancy, appearance versus reality, disabilities - the "sleek and skimming glory" of life. Only Henegan's "The Legacy" features a foreign setting and presents, of course, the Irish conflict theme.

     Although glimpses of humour occasionally emerge, for example Doyle's "Recorder Lesson," the general tone of the collection remains somber and cheerless. The selections vary in length from a page or two to 26 pages; three-quarters of the stories have first person narrators evenly split between male and female. The longest story, Henderson's "The Unfortunate," presents an intense tale rife with examples of man's inhumanity and insensitivity, yet tempered by occasional touching acts of kindness. Developing their own unique methods of dealing with issues, protagonists struggle to cope with the curves life throws their way.

     No nostalgic recollections of the wonders of growing up emerge, only adult remembrances filtered through the passage of time and the tangibility of experience. Some level of family dysfunction appears as a favourite subject in most of the stories with issues of sex and sexuality coming second. Genuinely engaging are the minutiae of daily life that are carefully woven into situations replete with pain, conflict, and despair. The wide variety of writing styles, the diversity in length, and the range of themes encourage readers to choose suitable selections at random. Aimed at older teens and addressing relevant current issues, the subjects, language, and behaviours in All Sleek and Skimming might cause some readers discomfort, however, probably no more so than what they hear and see often in their schools, homes, and communities.


Darleen Golke is a librarian living in Abbotsford, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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