THE FIRST COLLECTION of short stories by Jean Rysstad presents the world as a difficult vehicle to be Travelling In (Oolichan, 124 pages, $9.95 paper). Primarily set in West Coast fishing villages, the stories evoke a diffuse but powerful sense of imminent loss; a woman strains for contact with her husband before he returns to his boat, sisters find a separate peace with their circumstances, a daughter is lost at sea, a couple confront and break through the grief they share after a sudden infant death.
Rysstad`s language and taut narrative style are well suited to her themes in the 14 stories, as are her deadpan titles, including "Pressure Cooking," "Dog Days," and "Cut and Paste." For all her deft assurance with mood, however, the stories don`t quite rise above the anecdotal level. Theres a lack of texture in the (admittedly astringent) lives she creates. There are no surprises in the characters. Although they are skilfully drawn within the limits of their usefulness, they seem to lack any internal sense of purpose. Still, a second collection may well reveal Rysstad a,, a writer worth watching.