Thanks for Listening: Stories and Short Fictions by Ernest Buckler

ISBN: 0889204381

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A Review of: Thanks for Listening: Stories and Short Fictions
by Clara Thomas

This book represents a welcome renaissance of interest in one of our most accomplished fiction writers, Ernest Buckler. All the works collected here date from the mid-twentieth century on and the collection is enhanced by sensitive editorial commentaries by Marta Dvorak of the Sorbonne Nouvelle, France..

Buckler was a born and bred Maritimer. By far the most part of his life was spent on his farm in the Annapolis valley of rural Nova Scotia, close to the little town of Bridgetown. It was hardscrabble farming land, made more difficult by the constant demands of his writing on Buckler's time and energy. Time and again his fiction calls up the land and the circumstances of his own life. He himself was the sensitive narrator he pictured so well, and his many characters were convincingly of the land and the life he knew so well. He was always poor and too often unappreciated, though his many short stories were printed in popular and well-read magazines, even in Esquire, certainly the best-paying of the magazines of his time. In her enthusiasm for her subject, Professor Dvorak has compared the reception of his first novel, The Mountain and the Valley to the reception of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, the novel judged worthy of his Nobel Prize. Would that it were so! In 1952 Canadian Literature was not yet beginning the climb from neglect that we finally enjoyed in the late 1960s. His novel sold poorly and was never taught, for those very few of us teaching Canadian Literature were effectively barred from teaching novels until the end of the decade. Then the beginning of the New Canadian Library series by Malcolm Ross and Jack McClelland made cheap paperbacks available.
Understandably there was always a flavour of disappointment in Buckler's own evaluation of his fiction's reception. Professor Dvorak has written a detailed and scholarly introduction to this present collection of work which should result in its presence on many college and secondary schools' reading lists.
Buckler is a minute observer of the land he knows and its people. He is a miniaturist, knowing his characters intimately from the inside out, especially the depths of feeling that lie behind their reticences. There will never be a writer who so successfully portrays the life and people of the rural Maritime community where he lived his life. In editing the work Dvorak has, as she explains, restored the original texts to stories whose endings had been changed in answer to the demands of editors. Some writers, Margaret Laurence for instance, grew in popularity beyond the necessity to conform to market expectations; Buckler remained at the mercy of editors and magazine formats. "A story like Glance in the Mirror' took ten years (and four different endings) to find a publisher and the ironic ending of the original typescript disappeared completely in favour of a happy ending.'" His willingness to compromise was dictated by necessity-he always badly needed the money. To friends he complained of being repeatedly pushed into the formulaic "built-in slushy ending."
Awe and respect for individuals, awe and respect for the land, these are Buckler's trademarks. His core themes always retain a kernel of warmth, affection and bemused acceptance of the everlasting human dilemma-in Wordsworth's words the "still, sad music of humanity" in which we all dwell. Over the decades his work has retained its impact and the skill of its composition. It is good to see these stories reissued and with the popularity of short fiction at this present time, they should be guaranteed a well-deserved readership.

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