Coming Attractions 93|
by Douglas Glover And Maggie
Stories by Women
by Rhea Tregebov,
Post Your Opinion
by Carole Giangrande
IT` SHOULD go without saying that writers of fiction assume a need to bring their characters to life and to treat them with respect as human beings, whatever their failings. More than a need, it`s a moral imperative, and in the opinion of this reader, those writers who don`t care enough about the human condition to do that kind of gut work should find another career. In their choice of writers for Coming Attractions 93, Maggie Helwig and Douglas Glover seem to know this instinctively. The collection includes three stories by Gayla Reid, winner of the 1993 journey Prize for short fiction. The prize-winning story, "Sister Doyle`s Men," deals with an Australian nurse and her obsessive care of war veterans who will never recover. Reid`s characters see with great clarity, even when they find themselves in hopeless situations. "To Be There with You" follows a journalist who becomes involved in a relationship with a married Australian soldier in Vietnam. It`s the story`s restraint that gives it its power; everything, however inevitable, seems to happen in the silences between words.
Hannah Grant is a very different kind of storyteller, one who explores characters through a rich layering of poetic language and dreamlike inner dialogue. In "The Forest of Arden," Paul, blinded at the age of eight in a train crash, draws on Shakespeare and the voice of an actress to create an inner landscape more real than that lost to his sight. "Icarus" is a beautiful re-imagining of the Greek myth, telling of a man`s impossible struggle to free himself of physical and emotional bondage.
Barbara Parkin, the third writer in the anthology, excels at the kind of irony that allows the reader to see more than the narrator understands. "In Place of You" explores the psyche of Anne-Therese, a straitlaced aunt who can`t sympathize with the meandering life of her niece. She tries to compose a letter to her, but compassion gets blocked by her own injured life of parental repression and pain. Parkin`s skill at unravelling the motivations of characters is also evident in "Open Zoo," a story that reveals her concern with the pull between freedom and domestic security. The three writers in Coming Attractions 93 are stylistically different, and all are worth watching for their astute observations and for the care they take with their depiction of human lives.
That conscientiousness does not apply to much of the work in Rhea Tregebov`s anthology, Frictions Il. She`s a poet, and her ear for language shows itself in much of this work. Yet in her zeal to gather a crosscultural selection of women`s voices, Tregebov has chosen some stories that exhibit an almost spiteful indifference to human depth. Too often, men are portrayed as jerks, women as victims, and, on one or two occasions, whites as racist stereotypes.
In fairness, there are some fine writers
in this collection. Among them are Elisabeth Harvor and Gertrude Story, who unearth finely crafted, moving tales from familiar domestic ter-rain. Excerpts from longer works by Beverley Daurio and Cynthia Holz make us look forward to complete versions, And Rachel Wyatt is the sole writer who chuckles over crossed swords in the sexual wars. My personal favourite is Claire Harris`s "The Tale," a heartfelt story that begs to be read out loud. In it, a Caribbean immigrant to Canada visits her former home, keen to confront its racial and class divisions, only to encounter deeper truths beyond her grasp. Told from two points of view, it also includes a stunning piece of spoken text in the voice of a Native storyteller. Yet, good as the story is, the ending is marred by the introduction of a brandnew character.
More objectionable is Tregebov`s choice of didactic pseudo-fiction. The title says it all in Fauzia Rafiq`s "Violence of a Racist Dialogue," a piece of sledgehammer writing that shows no respect for the reader`s intelligence. Equally fatuous is Helen Rosta`s "Better Homes and Gardens," a silly tirade on the antebellum mansions of the US South. "Flat Mountain Taxtails" by Serena Lee Mis. Ta-Nash indulges in stereotypes: a wisdom-of-the-grandmothers Native woman versus the evil- tax-coIlector Miss Cratchitte. The negative traits of the white woman are described explicitly in racial terms. Stories such as these are a poor counterpoint to the more accomplished work in this anthology.
Like it or not, writing is a moral discipline as well as an exercise in language, a struggle to find truth and gain perspective on the human condition of all races. Spite and revenge insult the humanity of all readers, whatever their colour. Those who hold this rather old-fashioned view should pick and choose carefully as they read through this collection.