by John Degen
SHEILA IS adisillusioned young university graduate on a one-year teaching contractin a remote and isolated community. During her stay she must deal with theresentments and petty squabbles of the locals, and the trials of living socompletely cut off from the larger, more vital world. If Carmelita McGrath haschosen familiar territory for her short-fiction debut in Walking to Shenak (Killick, 152 pages, $11.95 paper) -- Sheila Watson`s Deep Hollow Creek, among others, covers thesame, very Canadian ground -- she brings to it an impressive,mature voice, convincing characters, and a charming wit.
Sheila`s character isrevealed through an interesting prism effect of competing perspectives.Excerpts from her journal take us inside a head numbed by a broken engagement,sexual ambivalence, and a growing alcoholism. This personal view is thencountered by her occasional appearances in the short stories that deal with therest of the inhabitants of Barker Inlet, the frigid Newfoundland outport thatis the book`s setting and central metaphor.
In these stories, andthis community, Sheila is just another outsider, an emotional exile who choosesgeographical remoteness as a kind of shock treatment for profound loneliness.The land and weather are, of course, key elements in the author`s creation ofmood, but she exercises a gentle irony and comes up with an unsettling mixtureof dread and burnout. McGrath shows a significant talent for capturing thepeculiarities of eastern Canadian idiom without overindulgence, and as aconsequence she writes uncluttered, touching stories.