________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005


The Voice is the Story: Conversations with Canadian Writers of Short Fiction.

Laurie Kruk.
Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 2003.
260 pp., pbk., $21.00.
ISBN 0-88962-798-3.

Subject Headings:
Authors, Canadian (English)-20th century-Interviews.
Short stories, Canadian (English)-Bio-bibliography.
Canadian fiction (English)-20th century-Bio-bibliography.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up / Professional.

Review by Joan Marshall.

*** /4


Kruk: How conscious are you of your craft as you're writing - do you have a kind of aesthetic? I notice your sentences are not really ornate; they're more clear.

Clark: I really work at trying to get my sentences, my prose, as clear - as clean - as I can. Uncluttered. Yet I want the writing to be evocative, too. Swimming Toward the Light is more lyrical, more metaphorical, than From a High Thin Wire.When I'm in the early stages of a story, I spend a lot of time doing what I call "circling": writing around it. Thinking about it. because I've got to get the right angle. So to avoid false starts, or going in and feeling it's all wrong, I take my time. All the stories in Swimming were written this way. I'm not thinking about craft or anything like that at this point.

What I really want to do is create a story that's layered. I want to leave enough room in the story for it to breathe. But when I start writing, I think more about how I'm going to put all these things that surface together. Then I get into the craft. Of course I do endless revisions. I even revise stories when they're published. When I get up to read - and I love to read - it's very seldom I can read a story without revising it. It's like eating peanuts; you can't stop.


The Voice is the Story, subtitled Conversations with Canadian Writers of Short Fiction, is a series of interviews with 10 of Canada's well-known short story writers. Kruk began these interviews in the early 1990's as a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario. Most of the interviews date from that time, although a few took place in the middle nineties and the latest one was completed in 1997.

     A long, scholarly introduction covers the history of short fiction in Canada, why she chose these particular writers and a discussion about the focus of her research (the influence of gender in the writing of short fiction). It is dense with references, footnoted, thorough and honest. A daunting beginning, this introduction will make all but the most serious student pause. On the other hand, the serious student will have much to work with. Author Notes near the end of the book give short bios of each writer and a useful index ends the book.

     Kruk has interviewed Edna Alford, Sandra Birdsell, Joan Clark, Timothy Findley, Elisabeth Harvor, Jack Hodgins, Alistair MacLeod, Jane Rule, Carol Shields and Guy Vanderhaeghe. It is interesting to note that half of these writers have gone on in the last few years to become more well-known for their novels than they are for their short fiction. At any rate, these writers represent the entire country geographically and they have all had much commercial success. The interviews in this book reveal their personalities and their candid opinions about short fiction, not to mention their quirky writing habits and thinking processes, all of which is delightful for the writing or literature student.

      The interviews, themselves, demand a certain expertise with a history of short fiction in the Canada of the 1980's and 1990's, as Kruk refers not only to the earlier work of the interviewed writers, but also to their critics' work. Younger students will no doubt find this academic style a little pretentious, but the older student majoring in English or creative writing will be able to generate many useful connections. The interviews are full of thoughtful language that will challenge the reader to re-think how writers write and what they think about. They show the writers as immersed in the literary life, real experts who are proud of their craft, yet down to earth in their approach to it.

     In each interview Kruk eventually asks the writer to comment about the role gender plays in writing. She asks Alford, for example, if being a woman writer has made any difference to her, and goes on to discuss with her the way that, even though the work of women writers is often devalued because it is seen as nurturing, Alford sees feminism as central to her work. Carol Shields describes a woman's writing as "inhabiting the world" rather than the male "reinventing the world" point of view. Both Jane Rule and Vanderhaeghe insist on "common humanity" as being more important than any gender identity. Kruk admits in the introduction that she was surprised to find that the writers believe that their class identity and their ethnicity are far more critical to their writing than their gender.

     She also tries to identify each writer with the "realist" movement or the "postmodernist" movement, with most of the writers defining themselves as "realists." In this discussion, the writers clarify the elements of postmodernism for the novice reader through their examples. However, some of the writers refuse to be pinned down in either camp, with Findley preferring to emphasize his theatricality and Harvor warning about the boastfulness of postmodernism.

     This book will enrich the reading of any committed literature student, and it will inspire any would-be writer.


Recently retired, Joan Marshall was the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in
Winnipeg, MB.

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

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