Victory Meat: New Fiction from Atlantic Canada

by Lynn Coady
ISBN: 0385658923

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A Review of: Victory Meat: New Fiction from Atlantic Canada
by Ibi Kaslik

Victory Meat: New Fiction from Atlantic Canada is an appropriately titled juicy new short story collection from the East Coast edited by Lynn Coady. Coady's causticly humourous introduction discusses the romanticization and commodification of Atlantic culture. Coady begs the question: What happens if you feel estranged from your people and place? What if the place you're from is the cutest place in North America, home of red pigtails and wooden lobster traps? Coady, who has explored and criticized the myth of the charming Atlantic home in her own stories and novels, remarks on the downside of coming from a culture of "belonging." As Coady writes in the introduction, there are "less media-friendly aspects of eastern Canada- parochial culture and moralizing."
In the first story of the collection, "Bitches on All Sides", by Rabindranath Maharaj, we get a glimpse of how an individual outside the cozy community-oriented provinciality of a place such as Fredericton copes with isolation. In Maharaj's story, a west Indian named Ramjohn is frustrated by his plight as an illegal alien in the whitewashed Fredericton. In the bizarre final, Ramjohn ingests a large amount of pork-bought from the Victory Meat market-while his friend watches Ramjohn's physical reaction to this symbolic bid for assimilation. Coady's placement of an immigrant story at the beginning of the collection is interesting and introduces the theme of alienation, as Atlantic Canada is not exactly the immigration hotspot of the nation. Such themes-longing for acceptance, rejection, loss, pain and dark homecomings-manifest themselves in different ways throughout this collection.
One of the finest and most moving of the stories, Lisa Moore's "Melody", takes the reader from the teenage hi-jinx of two girls to the core of a widow's mourning. "Melody", written in a classic short-story format, takes the reader to unpredictable emotional heights and moves between the voice of a young woman and an older woman with splendid ease. With remarkable foresight, the young narrator projects the rest of the story: "I know in an instant and without a doubt I will marry, never be good with plants, suffer incalculable loss that almost, almost tips me over, but I will right myself."
Acute physical and mental pain is another theme woven through this collection. In one compelling story, Libby Creelman's "Cruelty", a child acts out the tension between her parents by indulging in masochistic behaviour. In R.M. Vaughan's "Saint Brendan's" the main character, Sterling, is pulled back to his small town to fight his ancestral demons. Surrounded by fish scales and shells, he tries to create something beautiful out of the legacy of mental illness he passes onto his children, but ultimately fails.
In "Second Heart", by Michael Winter, two brothers poach moose in Newfoundland, despite their father's strict adherence to hunting laws, and end up paying dearly for breaking the rules governing the slaughter of animals. In Michael Crummey's "That Fall" a middle-aged woman brings her dying mother from her hometown of Twillingate to St.John's to care for her in the last months of her life. Tightly-wrought and poignant, this story also has beautiful moments of levity that those who have cared for an aging parent or chronically ill person can identify with. The story explores the unfolding of life in the midst of death.
While it is admirable of Coady to want to include lesser known writers in the collection, there is, at times, an unevenness in the quality of these works. Stories that are lighter in tone and subject might have fit well alongside others that lacked the same intensity or stylistic prowess, but next to more carefully wrought and emotionally-laden stories, these lighter-weights come across as unpolished. However, as a whole, "Victory Meat" is a very strong collection and demonstrates the wealth of talent and skill among Atlantic writers exploring universal themes of love, loss, belonging, and pain. Clearly Atlantic Canada is not just a postcard picture of sea and rock, it is place where people live and die and produce refined, not just quaint art.

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