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Merna Summer.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1982.
149pp, paper, $17.95 (cloth), $8.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-88750-448-5 (cloth), 0-88750-449-3 (paper).

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Alma Webster.

Volume 11 Number 2.
1983 March.

These are nine short stories set mostly in rural and small-town Alberta covering a time span from the depression period of 1930, war time, into the present day. Just as the settings and time periods vary, so do the themes and characters, yet each are told realistically with humour and understanding.

The title comes from the second story, of Allison, who has returned from "across the country" to the small farming community where she was born and raised tq attend her mother's funeral. The reader feels keenly the awkwardness and shyness of undemonstrative family members who have been too long separated, the well-meaning kindness and insincerity of the condolence calls, the universality of the rituals for the dead "Generation upon generation of mankind had looked upon their dead. . .now she was one of them." Allison finally makes peace with herself when she accepted that her strong-minded, chiselling, stealing mother's death look seemed to be sending out a message "I have nothing to be ashamed of."

"Ronnie So Long at the Fair," the first story is a humorous, yet touching account of an unsophisticated seventeen-year-old Ronnie's summer with his first girl friend. The story opens with one of his attempts at learning to smoke in his bedroom off the kitchen when his mother and a friend enter the house, in true rural fashion, by the back door. Hilarious! Then the party at the church hall when Derry Drake suggested they go outside for air. A week or so later at the Ver-million Fair he wonders why he and friend Ron had not noticed the girls sooner, "dressed to stand out in a crowd." And so begins the big crush-movies, bringing Derry home, and kissing-"Finding a place to kiss was not a problem... . The town was full of places you could kiss, dark places where there wasn't somebody going by every five minutes. . ." Then the goodnight when both were dangerously aroused caused little Derry to step out of the situation using her parents wishes as an excuse. (It's late 1950!) The author describes the characters and situations and emotions so very well: the mother's skill in reacting to her son's behaviour, Danny's search for answers, and Derry's skill in deceit, flirtation, and callosity.

"City Wedding" shows a contract between the old and the new, the simple and the psuedo sophisticate, as Astrid, a farm widow, recalled her bridal shower, the first to be held in the new district, her pride in the presents that filled an apple-box, with the grandeur of her son's fiancee's shower in the city. The wedding arrangements, the clothing, the reception, all of which Sheila, the bride's mother, gave the appearance of consulting Astrid about, yet all the while confusing her and with contemptible regard.

"Hooking Things" is set in a prairie city in war-time as a young father in the RCAF moves his family of a wife and two daughters into crowded city accommodations. The narrator, obviously a young girl, vividly recalls her friendship with Lorena who taught her to shoplift and her encounters with the church and the Mission Band collections.

"Threshing Time" is a tale of the humiliation and sufferings of an impoverished farmer and the arrogance and meanness of the big man owner of the threshing outfit. There is real pathos and suffering.

Many will recall reading the author's first work, Skating Party, published in 1974, which received favourable notice. As a short story collection it was noteworthy, but this collection shows greater skill and maturity. This book can be highly recommended.

Alma Webster, Edmonton Board of Education, Edmonton, AB.
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