THE MEDIUM is the mirage," the narrator suggests in the title story from Wilfred Watson's The Baie Comeau Angel and Other Stories (NeWest, 115 pages, $12.95 paper). And so it is. The five stories collected here are all explorations of mirages: religious, philosophical, and political quasi-realities that shimmer and ripple even as we try to fix our gaze upon them. Sometimes Watson delves into black comedy: in "The Baie Comeau Angel," we read about a fiercely patriotic Satan who persuades John Turner to murder Brian Mulroney after the latter has won the 1984 election, while a sweet but simple-minded angel figures out his own plan to keep the country running. Two other stories are downright creepy: in "The Lice" and "The Girl Who Lived in a Glass Box" we see how indecision and conformity to impossible ideals lead well-intentioned individuals to destruction by spiritual forces far beyond their control.
Strangely enough, I found one of the older stories in the collection ("Four Times Canada Is Four," which was first published in 1963) remarkably relevant for Canadians of today; its slyly satiric observations about a country that constantly divides itself in its quest for a sense of self-worth are truly meaningful even 30 years after its writing. The stories in The Baie Comeau Angel can be unsettling, but Watson's keen eye and wild imagination make the book worth a reader's attention.