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Cook, Hugh.

Oakville (Ont), Mosaic Press, c1985. 122pp, paper, ISBN 0-88962-266-3 (cloth) $14.95, 0-88962-265-5 (paper) $7.95. (Mosaic Fiction series) CIP

Grades 11 and-up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

A Hugh Cook story begins near the climax, then closes in to magnify the characters and setting, magnifying with such intensity that the story is full to bursting at the end.

Hugh Cook's protagonists in the ten selections that make up Cracked Wheat are members of Dutch immigrant families located in western Canada. They are a hardworking, ordered, repressed people who are extremely sensitive. And they are drawn by the lure of a chaotic counter-world that frightens them. Describing a boy full of emotion at the sight of carcasses in his grandfather's butcher shop, Cook writes, "He felt about the meat as he did about touching his tongue to a frozen bridge railing on the way to school: he knew the disastrous results of making contact, yet was inescapably drawn to do so." An adolescent delivering bread to a lonely young woman feels the same terrible pull. So does the kid who flees from Baptist constraint to join the fairground zanies.

Each story ends with the characters trying to come to grips with the ambiguities. They do so in a variety of ways. Only the half wit resorts to violence. Some work harder, some flee, some go home. I enjoyed seeing the minister hang in to deliver his sermon despite the odds. And I admired the stiff reverent father who softens watching his daughter dance in ballet class.

"A Lesson in Dance" takes the father's viewpoint in the form of a gentle meditation perfectly suited to the subject. It is set appropriately in a church hall converted to a dancing school. The author balances his material deftly, letting the father learn the lesson at his daughter's class, letting him recall another building where a dance hall became a church, letting him see a dancing body as a temple in itself. "Clown" is another well-made tale. This time it is the plot that inspires delight, as Cook twists his inevitable climax into a context that makes it unexpected.

The major strength of the volume taken as a whole is its sense of reality. Dialect, characters, settings, and situations are all convincing. Male and female, young and old alike, Cook's families come to life.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H.S., Nepean, Ont.
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