Glory Days and Other Stories

128 pages,
ISBN: 1550743198

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Children`s Books
by Geoffrey Cook

Glory Days is a collection of five stories told from the points of view of five high school students from the fictional Elmwood, Ontario. The two young women and three young men represent a variety of socio-economic positions, peer groups, and family structures. What distinguishes Gillian Chan's collection (her second about Elmwood) is the integrity of story and character: the protagonists and plots aren't just props; they fill the boots of their thematic functions. Her aesthetic choices (character, point of view, language, story, and collection structure) are equal to her ethical intentions. I read this book quickly, amused and moved by the characters and their predicaments. I was impressed, because most adult representations of adolescent lives are boring, with their moralizing on adolescent fun and folly. Gillian Chan, by contrast, believes in her characters and their stories and in the intelligence of her readers.

A good example of Chan's art is "The Invisible Girl", in which Luis is sexually assaulted by a sluttish school jock. The story is told backwards: we meet Luis alone at home, after she has escaped her attacker. This structural device and the use of first person narration (as in every story) allows readers to experience Luis's consciousness, her analysis of how things happened. At first, she wonders if the near-rape was her fault; but she realizes that she should have been smart enough to avoid the pathetic relationship with Mark, her attacker, in the first place. By limiting the story to Luis's re-telling of the relationship and the attack, Chan focuses on the ultimate lesson in the story: responsible selfconsciousness.

A very different tactic is used in "The Boy Most Likely", which is a convincing portrait of a spoiled, amoral, will-be politician. Taking his father's advice to do community service in order to manufacture a superficial social image, Art encounters a helpless but astute and cynical old man. What I like about this story is that its "lesson" depends on the reader's moral intelligence, for the narrator is the self-righteous, self-approving Art. That is, you have to be sensitive to dramatic irony, you have to not identify with the protagonist to come to any conclusions about human nature and just action.

Chan's central theme is the responsible establishment of individual integrity and dignity in the social realm. That realm, for teenagers, is most immediately among peers, and "The Courtship of Rudy", where Rudy realizes a girl has asked him to the school dance under false pretences, is a sensitive portrayal of a journey from excited pride through humiliating disillusion to renewed self-respect and assurance. The other important social realm of the teen is explored in two stories about teens' relationships with their families. Rachel, in "Singing the Blues", suffers some alienation from her parents, but in the end they prove supportive of her dreams. In the volume's title story, however, Michael watches his father bully a younger son to satisfy, vicariously, the father's failed ambition to be a pro hockey player. The same techniques were used on Michael years ago, though Michael finally insisted on his own goals, causing a permanent breach between father and son.

Chan's well-developed secondary characters and her method of inter-relating the stories help greatly to establish a reader's belief in the fictional world of Elmwood. Rudy, for example, is the best friend of Aaron, Rachel's brother, and Aaron's story is a subplot told through his friend's and his sister's stories. This cross-referencing, providing other points of view on characters we know from the inside, encourages belief in these people's reality. Furthermore, a reader realizes that the individual stories make up and are made up of a community; we come to believe in a whole, diverse society, not just isolated individuals.

Focusing on immediate, individual concerns while providing a larger social realm that encourages a critical, interpretive context, Glory Days is a book that holds faith with its intended audience of young teens. The language, while not vulgar, is one used by teenagers, and the content, while not exploitative, can be explicit and controversial. But the book is not meant for censorious adults. 

Geoffrey Cook is a poet, essayist, and teacher of English literature, language, and composition. He was awarded a Toronto Arts Council grant this summer for his poetry, some of which is forthcoming in Descant. He now lives in Montreal.


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