Nobody Goes to Earth Any More

by Don Ward
ISBN: 1550502077

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A Review of: Nobody Goes to Earth Any More
by Steven W. Beattie

Flannery O'Connor, one of the great practitioners of the short-story form, once commented that "[t]he peculiar problem of the short-story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible." In his dbut collection, Nobody Goes to Earth Any More, Saskatchewan writer Donald Ward echoes O'Connor's fascination with the way in which mystery operates in the world, and with those moments when human beings are forced by circumstance into a confrontation with their essential natures.
The sixteen stories in Nobody Goes to Earth Any More are wildly disparate in their modes-Ward includes everything from naturalism ("The Name of His Longing", "The King's Head and Eight Bells") to science fiction ("No More than Human", "Nobody Goes to Earth Any More") to postmodern metafiction ("The Philosopher") to full-blooded supernatural horror ("Strange Tribe"). What lends these formally divergent stories cohesion is their shared thematic concern with "the mystery of existence."
Like O'Connor, Ward frequently views mystery through the prism of faith. Not, however, the kind of religious faith that, as the Roman Catholic priest who narrates "Strange Tribe" puts it, "gives us rules and reasons and comforts the credulous with certainty." Rather, for Ward's characters faith provides a mechanism to confront the unknown, despite the fact that the outcome of such a confrontation is in question. In the story, the unnamed priest and a Cree tracker named Joel Natoweyes set off into the boreal forest of the north to find and kill a marauding creature that has savaged a group of campers. They are both consumed by doubt and fear, in part because both are entirely convinced that the "demon" exists.
In this belief, both Joel and the priest embody an explicit rejection of the scientific method, which denies the existence of anything that cannot be rationally explained. According to a strict scientific conception of the universe, the priest acknowledges, "[o]ne might gaze into the abyss and postulate its origin, but one is not required to leap into it." By contrast, Ward's characters cleave to O'Connor's notion that "faith is a walking in darkness' and not a theological solution to mystery."
Solutions, theological or otherwise, are in short supply in Ward's stories. Unnatural events abound, which we are asked to take at face value. In the opening story, "Theology", the main character's husband strips naked, paints himself blue, and dances around a bonfire in their garden. In "The Case of Julianne Corelli", the eight-year-old title character, who has been raped and murdered, rises from the dead with the power to smell sin on other people. In "Canis Rex", an Iranian woman whose husband has been the target of assassins takes bizarre revenge on her neighbour's barking dog.
What becomes clear as one works through the stories in the collection is that Ward is not interested in explanations or pat answers. The stories provide us with snapshots of lives, and in many cases offer glimpses of understanding, or moments of revelation. (Joyce is another clear influence: he's mentioned by name in "Vanities" and variants of the word "epiphany" appear no less than three times in the first two stories.) But, like many stories that follow the Chekov/Joyce/Beckett mode, what resolution there is on offer frequently occurs with the reader, not within the stories themselves. The stories often open outward in their final stages, pointing the reader to any number of potential resolutions or possibilities. Ward is more interested in asking probing questions than in discovering tidy solutions, and many of the stories in the collection will benefit from repeated readings.
Less effective is Ward's predilection for Roald Dahl style twist endings, which crop up in a number of these stories, to their detriment. The deus ex machina at the finale of "The Philosopher" seems less like an organic device within the story than an easy out on the part of an author who had written himself into a corner. The omniscient puppet masters in "No More than Human" feel similarly grafted on; one wonders how the characters in this story would have fared without the intercession of these disembodied voices.
But if certain stories in Nobody Goes to Earth Any More misfire, there are still riches to be found in these pages. At their best, Ward's stories provide an entertaining and thoughtful examination of the human condition, without resorting to tepid self-help platitudes or easy sentimentality. For this, if for nothing else, Ward deserves credit. O'Connor would have approved.

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