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by Rachel Rafelman

GEORGE LITTLE, a schoolteacher and the former leader of New Brunswick`s NDP, has published his first collection of short stories, The Many Deaths of George Robertson (Goose Lane, 137 pages, $12.95 paper). His writing competent and humorous but vaguely didactic - reflects both his professional pursuits. As avowed lessons in human experience, these stories are both sentimental and "socially conscious." Frequently treading thematic and technical ground already covered by other writers (does he teach Eng. Lit.?), Little`s tales are amiable but somewhat aimless. In "The Beauty of Holiness," a sweet but formulaic story, a man reminisces about his pious, proper grandmother and his own adolescent religious fervour. "Broken Teeth and Frosty Leaves" is an entertaining account of two sisters and an incident in their childhood that shapes their lives and relationship; but the characters, barely sketched in, are wooden, and the parallels between the past and present so scantily drawn that the story`s premise is undermined. In the title story, the depiction of George Robertson, who experiences multiple mini-deaths that increase in frequency and then suddenly stop, is curious and unsatisfactory. It is never clear whether the character is a mystic or a psychotic, so the story has no force or impact. Only "The Joiner," a story about all the "what ifs?" in the life of an English professor immersed in Jacobean drama, has a distinctive ring and achieves a coherence and cohesion many of the other stories lack. The central character`s memory becomes crowded with the gory images of the revenge tragedies he is writing about in a way that merges with his own past experiences.

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