We’re deep into May, and it’s really beginning to feel like summer. Luckily, it’s also Short Story Month! Hard-hitting Poetry Month (April) has passed, but we’re not quite at the lounge-on-the-beach-with-a-novel stage. To keep you reading in the meantime, pick up a book of short stories! Here are five published by Talonbooks, which you may find edifying and delightsome.
1. I, Bartleby by Meredith Quartermain
In these quirkily imaginative short stories about writing and writers, the scrivener Quartermain (our “Bartleby”) goes her stubborn way haunted by Pauline Johnson, Malcolm Lowry, Robin Blaser, Daphne Marlatt, and a host of other literary forebears. Who is writing whom, these stories ask in their musing reflections – the writer or the written? The thinker or the alphabet? The calligrapher or the pictograms hidden in her Chinese written characters?
Are they short stories? Are they prose poems? Are they autobiographical?
Taking its cue from genre-bending writers like Robert Walser and Enrique Vila-Matas, I, Bartleby cunningly challenges boundaries between fiction and reality.
2. And Other Stories (edited by George Bowering)
A couple of decades ago, George Bowering and Linda Hutcheon came up with the idea for a short fiction collection called Likely Stories: A Postmodern Sampler. It was a great idea at a time when a lot of people were still trying to figure out what “postmodern” actually meant. That fine collection of stories has now gone out of print, and George Bowering put together another collection of Canadian short fiction that takes the theme of postmodernity one step farther. And Other Stories offers not just more stories of difference, of other-ness and the race, gender, class, and politics of the other, but stories where our most talented writers become, and reflect on being, other(s).
Included are stories by Gail Scott, Matt Cohen, Suzette Mayr, M.A.C. Farrant, Timothy Findley, Dionne Brand, Candas Jane Dorsey, Audrey Thomas, Sheila Watson, Dany Laferrière, George Bowering, Leon Rooke, David Arnason, Clint Burnham, Hiromi Goto, Guillermo Verdecchia, André Alexis, George Elliot, Diane Schoemperlen, Brian Fawcett, Thomas King, Keath Fraser, Margaret Atwood, and Clark Blaise.
3. Nuri Does Not Exist by Sadru Jetha
Travel to Zanzibar, an island set like a jewel in the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa, and the quintessential example of the fabled “Spice Islands,” is rich in cultural heritage and steeped in colourful, sometimes unsavoury history. In this collection of beautifully crafted, spare, concise and refreshingly understated stories, we accompany Nuri on his quest to understand how servitude transcends slavery; fealty transcends servitude; and community transcends fealty.
As Nuri grows older, the diction of the stories changes: from the naïve voice of childhood through the self-conscious worries of adolescence; the wonder of his discovery of reading and writing; the heavily accented “BBC English” of the senior schoolboy, its rhythms and diction in the clearly enunciated syntax of the defensive gesture; to the polite reserve of the professional classes of the “naturalized” Canadian immigrant.
Amid a sea of dystopian world literatures haunted by the fractious claims of identity politics, Nuri Does Not Exist is an astonishingly charming collection of linked short stories that engages us with the utterly believable innocence of its Utopian vision.
4. Fearless Warriors by Drew Hayden Taylor
Drew Hayden Taylor is internationally acclaimed as a playwright, screen-writer, essayist, and comic and sardonic commentator on the endless gaffs, absurdities and the profound and painful misunderstandings that continue to characterize social interactions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Taylor’s stories in Fearless Warriors are a full frontal assault on stereotypes of all kinds and an edifying affirmation of humanity unlike anything else in fiction.
By degrees dramatic, shocking, tender, chilling, affirmative and tragic, each story takes on a different cliché or “common sense understanding” of inter-racial and inter-cultural relations, all of them suffused with the incomparable wit, gentle and generous humour, mercilessly critical edge and profound emotional empathy of a master story-teller. Even just one of these stories, “The Boy in the Ditch,” does more to illuminate the tragedy of the pre-teen gasoline sniffing culture of Davis Inlet than any number of Royal Commissions will ever do.
5. Death in Vancouver by Garry Thomas Morse
Set in Vancouver, B.C., this gathering of stories superimposes aspects of literary classics on local urban space to express increasing dissonance and alienation in the groaning “necropolis” that is the contemporary global city.
“One Helen” is a woman subject to poetic idealization who reveals her own interior monologue on Bloomsday in “Another Helen” in this two-part romantic comedy where love may arrive too late. In “Nailed,” an incident from The Book of Judges becomes zagadka without razgadka, or one of Gogol’s riddles without resolution. “Salt Chip Boy” presents homogenized global jargon from an Orwellian vision of a future Vancouver where denizens controlled by implanted desiccants enter virtual worlds to enjoy vintage language and scenarios. In “Two Scoops,” an attractive reporter investigates a government-funded project that involves supermarket products and sexual hallucinations. In “The Book,” a Dostoyevskian drunkard contemplates Mallarmé’s suggestion that everything exists to end up in a book while en route to “the stone that drives men mad” as described in Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver. “Dry Gray,” who takes his name from a burger chain receipt while trying to stay sober, grapples with lingering questions from an Asperger’s test.
These stories culminate in the title novella, a restatement of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice in which a retired ballet dancer called Padam falls under the spell of a young man in the lounge of the Istoria (fictional double to Vancouver’s Sylvia Hotel). When a hotel renovation leads Padam to believe that cosmetic injections will resolve his unrequited passion, he finds himself suddenly face to face with an unslaked desire for historical vengeance in the beak of a First Nations bird monster.
Humour, politics, environment, interpersonal relationships, magic realism, memoir, a variety of styles and schools of writing … who could ask for anything more from a handful of short story collections? Dip into any book on this list. We’re certain you won’t regret it.