Best Canadian Stories

by David Helwig, Maggie Helwig,
ISBN: 0887508928

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Breif Reviews - Fiction
by Roger Mason

TO CAPISTRANO, its swallows; to Canada, Oberon's annual Best Canadian Stories, and who would have it otherwise? The selection of nine short stories that David Helwig and Maggie Helwig have chosen as Best Canadian Stories 1992 (Oberon, 171 pages, $29.95 cloth, $15.95 paper) is, as usual, personal (which means any number of readers might quibble with it), unexpected and, above all, entertaining.

Mavis Gallant's "A State of Affairs" is consummate Gallant - a wise, humane, and effortlessly stylish story of a love that conquers distance, memory, history, and human frailty. Wonderful.

"Cervine," Dayv James-French's story of a moose stranded in the family swimming pool, is a cleverly used anecdote spun into an affecting story of family and racial relationships. James-French has a sly sense of humour and a quick and effective perception of the small nuances of attitude and behaviour that delineate us all.

Lesley Kreuger's "Zonians" also attends to relationships, in this case manipulative ones, set in the real (and metaphorical) steaminess of Panama's Canal Zone. Kreuger formerly lived in the exotic climes in which her story is set, and she brings an authentic smell of corruption - physical and moral - to this bleak but entertaining tale.

Bonnie Burnard's "Casino" uses the story of the burning of a lakeside dance, hall to illuminate the lives - and sometimes the deaths - of those whose summers revolve around the dancehall's light, noise, and slightly questionable fun. Burnard's story beautifully treads the line between meaningful nostalgia and rosy sentimentality, and deftly evokes the pains and pleasures of being young in an earlier time, as well as the timelessness of all human interaction.

The editors have included Steven Heighton's "How Beautiful Upon the Mountains" even though it was chosen for the Journey Prize Anthology. It is a fine story - of a boy's relationship with his father, and their shared past, filtered through a family anecdote dating from the father's childhood - but, while I respect the editors' decision, there are so few spotlights shone on our literature during the year that it seems a waste of good light for the same piece to be illuminated from two different directions.

What the hell, and praise be, the Helwigs' annual collection shines one of those spotlights, and this is one writer and reader who - sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing with their focus - hopes they will continue to do so for years to come.


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