Likely Stories:
A Postmodern Sampler

313 pages,
ISBN: 0889104468

Post Your Opinion
It Seems to be a Textbook
by Margaret Sweatman

THIS "SAMPLER" is a peculiar and wonderful product. Rebellious, twisted, and narcissistic. Those are the white guys. The Others are brilliant, too. It's such an odd party, this book. So meta-liberal.

Linda Hutcheon's foreword is constrained. In some ways it's an intelligent down-sizing of her more sophisticated

analyses of postmodern literature. But this miniature, Coles Notes version of her ideas dampens the pleasure of reading the stories. I had this watched-over sensation, am-I-getting-it-right, the uninvited memory of pedagogical guidance through a good book. It might just be the nature of the beast; Likely Stories seems to be a textbook, and its readership, I'm guessing by its alphabetical contents, and by Hutcheon's essay, would be young -- maybe high school. George Bowering and Linda Hutcheon, eds., alphabetical too, selfconscious as neat babysitters, modestly deferring the last word, letting us stay up as long as we like. Reading Hutcheon's foreword and Bowering's afterword is like listening to eccentric parents speak to the Anglican neighbours.

On the first read-through, what hit hard was the disjunction between the telling and the tale, the burned electric smell when the teller disconnects the contents from the form and tells a brutal story, lightly. I'm thinking of Mildred Tremblay's "Lily and the Salamander" in particular. The foregrounded form casts a satiric shadow, too, in David Bromige's "Ann and Dan Got Married":

Ann and Dan had lots of fun. He

would stand there talking to himself

under his breath and Ann would

come and dance around them both,

the muttering one and the hearken-

ing one, and fuse them with her high

spirits and curious ways. As time

went by, Dan came to identify with

Ann. Without usually intending to,

he impersonated her. This drove Ann

wild with desire. She could make

love to herself without feeling lonely!

The form folds in on itself, makes me queasy, even as I admire the craft and the intelligence of the writer. Many of the stories focus -- so objectively -- on love or relationships or whatever the gods of rational desire might call it. I was struck by the absence of compassion in several; Matt Cohen's "A Literary History of Anton" in particular. But stylization doesn't necessarily have a grisly effect: David Amason's "A Girl's Story" and Leon Rooke's "Art" are funny, astute, and poignant literary/social commentary; and Dionne Brand's wild poetic diction has the joyful quality of a jail-break.

The corpus callosum between the telling and the tale leads to the adjacent issues of narcissism and self- reflexivity. In Douglas Glover's "Dog Attempts to Drown Man in Saskatoon," the narrator, dodging, earnest, apologetic, sabotages the clean departure; premise driven to inevitable closure. The story shatters into iterative fragments, an eloquent stutter, self- conscious, like strenuous acting. When the stories focus on sexual relations, the disjunction between the impulse and its gesture emits a disquieting white noise. More discursively, of love, in Alice Munro's "Bardon Bus":

"It's nothing but the desire to see

yourself reflected," she says. "Love

always comes back to self-love.

The idiocy. You don't want them, you

want what you get from them.

Obsession and self-delusion."

The self- reflexivity in form, and the narcissism as it's expressed mimetically in Munro's story, might lead one to assume that postmodern writing minimizes or rejects the political, the role of literature as social/political agent. I think that this anthology provides a strong counter-argument. These stories question the referential capacity of language and reveal the Author, and His Subjects, in a kind of transparent anatomy. There isn't space here to discuss the numerous forms of such an interrogation: the bleeding of the subconscious into grammatical structures; the fractured story-time; the role of obsession and repetition; the wilfully inappropriate discourse; the stories that swing between genres (or as Brian Fawcett writes in "Malcolm Lowry and the Trojan Horse, stories that express the instinct "to live in the interzone between the worn-out Cartesian universe and the wilderness.")

The stories in this anthology are disparate and therefore discourage a final statement on the postmodern condition. But it would appear that our children might learn that human beings are capable of loyalty, joy, courage, and idiosyncratic civic action.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us