The Voice Is the Story: Conversations with Canadian Writers of Short Fiction

by Laura Kruk, Laurie Kruk
ISBN: 0889627983

Post Your Opinion
A Review of: The Voice is the Story
by Jeremy Lalonde

As I'm sure you already know, The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe won this year's CBC Canada Reads competition. For the purposes of this review, I'm less interested in Vanderhaeghe's success than the manner in which Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman was summarily shelved on the second day of the contest. The deciding vote belonged to the mediator, Bill Richardson, who claimed it was too difficult to contrast Munro's collection of short stories with the four novels in the competition.
This is an interesting claim, given that the four novelists (Thomas King, Monique Proulx, Mordecai Richler and Guy Vanderhaeghe) have written numerous short stories over the course of their careers, crossing between genres with remarkable alacrity. Keep that old Sesame Street game, one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others, in mind; difference in this context is subtly encoded as inferiority-you're different, you lose, in other words.
The fact is, Richardson may very well like short stories-but until we set up new narrative ground rules, the short story and collections of short stories will continue to suffer through unfair comparisons with the novel. What we need, in short, is a definition of generic difference that accounts for the individual strengths of the short story and the novel. To this end, Guy Vanderhaeghe has developed a working definition of his own:

"great short stories are chiseled and cut and refined and faceted in a way that makes them-and this is not a dismissive phrase-like a fine cameo. Whereas novels I think have to have a certain amount of baggy trousers to them. In fact, novels actually have to have slack stretches in them, and the pacing is very different from that of the short story."

The Voice is the Story persistently champions the short story as a genre. Concerns regarding short fiction emerge naturally in this book-perhaps because the writers' talk is balanced against stories that are intended to serve as illustrative examples. The Voice of the Story: Conversations with Canadian Writers of Short Fiction comprises ten interviews with Canadian writers: Edna Alford, Sandra Birdsell, Joan Clark, Timothy Findley, Elisabeth Harvor, Jack Hodgins, Alistair MacLeod, Jane Rule, Carol Shields and Guy Vanderhaeghe. Laurie Kruk conducts all of the interviews and, as the title suggests, these are conversations-that is, Kruk assumes an active speaking role in the proceedings-that take short fiction as their focal point.
Let me state the obvious: this book won't have a wide readership, but it will appeal to anyone interested in the short story as a genre or the particular writers involved. With the exception of the Hodgins and Vanderhaeghe interviews, all of this material has previously appeared in Canadian journals. However, since many of these journals are not widely available, this edition represents a significant contribution to scholarship on Canadian short fiction. Most of the writers involved are widely known for their novels; perhaps as a consequence, other interviews with these same writers frequently dwell on their novels to the exclusion of their short stories. This explains why, for example, there is no interview with Alice Munro in this edition: since Munro works almost exclusively in the short story form, there is no shortage of material that details her impressions of the genre and her own stories.
In her introduction, Kruk sketches a brief history of the short story in Canada that, while not quite on par with essays by Frank Davey ("Genre Subversion and the Canadian Short Story") and W.H. New ("Back to the Future"), will serve as a useful introduction for most students. Researchers will appreciate the index to the conversations that lists the names of authors, artists and other public figures (the index to one interview lists Boy George and Bob Newhart; you'll have to guess which one) as well as the titles of individual stories, books and other media.
During the interviews, Kruk doesn't limit the writers to discussing their short stories, but she does make sure they say something about them (Jack Hodgins, for instance, is far more interested in talking about his novels). Edna Alford discusses the particular problems that the writer of linked short stories faces; she recounts how her publisher begged her to transform A Sleep Full of Dreams into a novel (a move she resisted). Besides an affinity for the short story as a genre, these writers are also united in their resistance to "being labeled," "pigeonholed," or "compartmentalized" as short story writers, as regional writers, as queer writers (to name a few examples).
It seems to me that The Voice is the Story also runs the risk of being pigeonholed, as a book "of little interest to anyone besides historians and graduate students seeking to pad their theses with quotation" (the words belong to Globe and Mail reviewer Melanie Little). What troubles me most about this claim is the way it rests on the observation that "Many of the interviewsare not contemporary" (there is no argument on the point that Kruk envisions a largely academic readership). While some of the interviews in The Voice is the Story date from as far back as 1990, the issues they raise remain astonishingly current.
This book captures something of the lively debate that surrounds the status of the short story in Canada--a debate that is very much ongoing and shows no signs of abatement.

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