CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Selected by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver.
Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press, 1986.
436pp., cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 0-19-540565-X. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Canadian fiction (English)-19th century.
Canadian fiction (English)-20th century.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by James Kingstone.

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

The stories selected by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver trace an arc of imperilled living. Almost all are set in Canada; from Isabella Valancy Crawford's "Extradited" to Guy Vanderhaeghe's "Dancing Bear," from physical conflicts in the early settlement of this country to a portrayal of psychological difficulties the authors establish the basis for an engaging, heroic ordinariness.

The average length of each is ten pages; one approaches twenty pages. Each betrays an impressive, but deceptive skill at compression, for the fierce effect of their telling usually depends for its success on a density of concrete, rigorously shaped material. As a result, brevity seems to disguise their substantiality, suggesting that the size of the authors' talents is inversely proportional to the length of their performances. While it is possible to read several at a sitting, a fact which should please teachers interested in making this part of a course of study most of the stories demand careful reading; their richness and complexity are made fully accessible only after some time has been devoted to them.

Older readers will delight in perennial favourites and may even be surprised at how fresh and contemporary they feel. Stephen Leacock, Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Hugh Garner are represented in their best work. Writing at or near the peak of their powers, our middle generation of celebrity-authors, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley, are included, their talents thrown into sharp relief. But this publication clearly offered its editors an opportunity to introduce a younger group of writers to a wider audience, the importance of which now seems dramatized by Margaret Laurence's recent death. As a writer whose early efforts did much to legitimize fiction writing ,in this country in the 60s and 70s Margaret Laurence, not surprisingly, appears to have influenced this younger generation of developing authors. In Katherine Govier, Matt Cohen, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Sandra Birdsell there is evidence of strong talent at the service of intelligence, imagination, and a maturing technique.

In her introduction, Atwood points out that of the forty-one writers represented in this new collection, thirty-two are still living. Though this fact perhaps reveals that our literature is, relatively speaking, still in its infancy, it recognizes the promising future of the short story in Canada and argues for its continuing importance in our culture.

James Kingstone, Peterborough, ON.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works