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Wayne Tefs

Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1990. 232pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 0-88801-149-0. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Barbara Camfield.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

The Canasta Players is the third novel by the Winnipeg writer Wayne Tefs. The hero of this novel is Michael Saunders, a middle-aged university professor in a western Canadian city who struggles with his advancing age and physical deterioration. He is married to a beautiful career-driven woman, yet mesmerized by a young student who is dying of a blood syn­drome. His wife, in turn, carries on an adulterous relationship with a fellow real estate salesperson in empty houses that are for sale. His daughter by a previous marriage is defiant and is sharply critical of the life-style of her father and stepmother, although she is willing to accept their money, assistance and cars. Michael invariably offers her all these since he feels so guilty for leaving his first wife for Mary.

This is a novel filled with rage, unresolved conflicts, and selfishness. The characters, particularly the female ones, are unconvincing since they are defined primarily in terms of the demands they make on the men whom they know best. The world of the novel is divided into defiant and accepting people. Michael's friend, Steven, with whom he is frequently contrasted, defines the two kinds of people: "Most people lack the character to get angry at what they are given ... Run and hide when they are dumped by lovers... Drift toward death, even, with a shrug of the shoulders. But the angry, they're different. They bridle, they rage, they throw tantrums."

The spectre of death, the sinister, and the role of chance are repeated themes in the novel. On several occasions Michael is haunted by the presence of strangers who appear to carry guns and to follow him. He has nightmares of running people down in his car, and his daughter wrecks two of his cars but manages to escape death. While Michael rages against death and aging, his enigmatic dying lover displays wisdom and resolution far greater than her years.

Unfortunately, the plot of this novel only is too predictable and the charac­ters too one dimensional to sustain the reader's interest. In the end, Michael and Mary appear ready to reaffirm their affection for one another by renouncing their lovers. Michael recognizes his frailty when he finally has the foreshad­owed heart attack while making love to Angela. He is even reconciled with his daughter, who hands him her newborn baby born out of wedlock. This baby symbolizes life's continuity, despite either the rage or acceptance of the characters.

Buy this novel only if your collection of recent Canadian material must be comprehensive.

Barbara Camfield, Immigrant and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa, Ont.
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