Tree Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English

by Margaret Atwood, Robert Weaver
436 pages,
ISBN: 019540565X

Post Your Opinion
Sins of omission
by Allan Weiss

A SHORT STORY anthology is usually designed to fulfil a specific function: as a school textbook, a showcase for the works of a region or ethnic group, a sample of a literature's "bests," and so on. Occasionally, an anthology is published without any clearly defined function, or strives to serve so many different ones that it strains against restrictions an size.
The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English seems to belong to the latter category. Edited by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver, it appears at first glance to take a historical approach. The stories are arranged chronologically, although since the author's date of birth rather than the date of initial publication determines the story's position, the order is actually somewhat misleading.
On the other hand, the selections suggest that Weaver and Atwood are seeking to provide a collection of "bests," omitting works of historical value that may not stand up as individual stories. Certainly classics like Stephen Leacock's "The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias" and Hugh Hood's "Flying a Red Kite" are here; yet so are Jane Rule's "Slogans" and Susie Frances Harrison's "The Idyl of the Island," stories that hardly merit that classification.
The editors therefore seem to wish to give a fairly mixed selection, presenting newer writers and stories together with established authors and well-anthologized works. Thus, alongside names like Ethel Wilson ("From Flares"), Hugh Garner ("One, Two, Three Little Indians"), and Alice Munro ("The Peace of Utrecht") appear Gloria Sawai (the aptly titled "The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts") and Katherine Govier ("Sociology"). We are given a healthy balance of harsh realism, represented by stories like Audrey Thomas's "Kill Day on the Government Wharf" and Edna Alford's "Mid-May's Eldest Child" and fantasy and metafiction as in Leon Rooke's "The Woman Who Talked to Horses" and George Bowering's "A Short Story."
The coverage is eclectic, yet suffers from some glaring omissions. Where, for example, are writers like Ernest Buckler, Alistair MacLeod, and Alden Nowlan to represent the Maritimes? Atwood and Weaver make some effort to include very recent stories, but almost every story they have chosen has appeared in book form; apparently no effort was made to search the literary periodicals for new voices that are less easily accessible.
Atwood and Weaver have written separate introductions which say little about the principles behind their selections. Atwood attempts to generalize about the Canadian short story without recognizing the dangers of basing her statistics and conclusions on stories she herself helped to select. Weaver's introduction deals with the topic more concretely, discussing the conditions under which Canadian short-story writers worked, especially during the 1950s. They have provided biographical notes on each author, which are occasionally supplemented by tantalizing critical remarks on the writer's thematic concerns or the story itself. A reader unfamiliar with these writers will probably want much fuller commentary than Atwood and Weaver supply.
In the absence of clearer editorial principles governing what was included and what was left out, the anthology will probably raise some eyebrows. As as "Oxford Book" it will, presumably, be read internationally as representative of the best of Canadian short fiction, something it is certainly not. Yet on the whole the stories are very good, and many are excellent, providing a varied picture of Canadian storytelling over the past century. At worst, the anthology is uneven; at best, it is marked by somewhat courageous choices that make it an extremely interesting and sometimes surprising anthology.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us