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New Icelandic Canadian Writing
by John Oughton

CANADIANS WITH Icelandic roots -- many of them living around Gimli, Manitoba -- represent one of the rarer threads in our multicultural fabric. Rumour has it that Iceland is fiercely literary, with uncommonly high numbers of small presses and avid readers. Some of that tendency must have survived the voyage to Canada, since Kristjana Gunnars has been able to find eight Canadian short-story writers (plus one visiting American) of Icelandic heritage to contribute to Unexpected Fictions: New Icelandic Canadian Writing (Turnstone Press, 98 pages, $10.95 paper). As Gunnars notes in her introduction, the stories share a mainstream Canadian sensibility, with little overt Icelandic culture (the exception being several references to vinarterta, a delicacy that is never fully described), and the ones that work best each revive a past moment and illuminate it. W.D. Valgardson's funny memoir "The Man Who Was Always Running Out of Toilet Paper," Maureen Arnason's "The Dancers," her brother David's "Night Train to Barcelona," and Betty Jane Wylie's sensual "Memories of Chocolate Sauce" are simply good stories that would be at home in any short fiction anthology. Most of the others don't really qualify as "unexpected fictions," but as more or less adequate, stylistically conservative short stories. In fact, "Night Train to Barcelona" is the only tale that takes any postmodern twists.

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