Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Journey Prize Stories #20, featuring The Best of Canada’s New Writers

The Journey Prize Stories has been presenting for 20 years “some of our most exciting up-and-coming new [Canadian] writers” (cover quote). This anthology is filled with varied stories. Though a bit depressing, and some seemed to end very suddenly, they are so descriptive, and such definitive characters, I enjoyed most of the stories. They are very well-written; some I may not have enjoyed as much were a matter of my personal preferences, and nothing to do with the quality or the stories themselves.

The first story, “Chaperone” by Clea Young, is a portion of an early draft of her novel. It is very current, honest and resounds with teen angst. Chaperoning a group of teens, four adults include an exhausted, well-wrapped-around-the finger father who is clearly out of his depth with his teen daughter. He hasn’t come to terms yet that she is older, at least in life experience, than he realizes.

“Breaking on the Wheel” by Oscar Martens brings to mind the“Dirty Thirties”, although the time appears to be current. The desperation of a man who makes all the wrong choices in life and can’t see why, nor what he is doing to his family, grabbed hold of this reader. The storyline is told in a very unique way, gets its point across in a few pages, and had me in tears for the plight of the young teen daughter who is quietly dealing with so much grief in her family. She is the only one who can see clearly what is happening and where it will all end.

“The Guiding Light” by Naomi K. Lewis. Wonderful characterizations involving two women, one a Canadian “self-help” author and lecturer, the other a first-time interviewer for the local paper in Arizona. I thought this story was entertaining and illuminating in the interplay of the two characters.

“Steaming for Godthab” by Dana Mills. An honest and compelling descriptive of how isolation of a group within a small space creates a complete set of rules of its own. A group of fishermen on a small boat in the North Atlantic for two months reach the breaking point. Quoting from the story “... like cabin fever times a thousand in a house that won’t sit still.”

“Whale Stories” by Theodora Armstrong. A young boy trying to deal with the loss of his exciting father, and living in a new location. He does what he thinks needs to be done to protect his family, and is unprepared for the outcome of his choices. Well-developed characters.

“Goodbye Porkpie Hat” by Mike Christie. This is the author’s first published work and I found it very entertaining despite the theme, cocaine. The author knows what he is talking about, he has worked in this despairing area and also in psychiatric care facilities, so much was spot on. The story amused me with its layout like a science project. I really liked this one, I would like to read a novel by Mike Christie if he chooses to expand his writing.

“The Gifted Class” by Scott Randall. This gifted Grade 2 class is just far too precocious for its tender age. They discuss such things as the benefits of Dexedrine versus the controversial Ritalin. The characters of Marla and Belman are endearing, the interaction of the teacher and the principal amusing. Overall I’m left with the feeling that these children will continue to mature to the level of their “gifts” be alright after all.

“Some Light Down” by S. Kennedy Sobol. A mystery conveyed completely in a short story. This is not a story of suspense, we know the “who” in the first sentence; this is the journey of the “what”. Working backwards after the death of her friend by a serial killer much of the story is of Cookie’s search for the truth. After the body of her friend is discovered she is determined to find out what happened. An interesting way of telling the story and a good read.

“At Last At Sea” by Sarah Steinberg. This is a story a lot of people can relate to, especially adult daughters. Although the unnamed daughter is afraid of being on the water, she finds herself on a cruise with her mother. Their relationship is extremely strained and neither seems to know or really care about bridging the gap. The characters once again are well-defined and I enjoyed the storyline.

“The Polar Bear at the Museum” by Anna Leventhal. This story is well-written, fairly typical of experimenting, bullying teens, and broken families. I’m sure the museum themes are very important to the structure of Beth’s life, perhaps an emptiness, but this is my personal “readers block”, and it tantalizes me. Simply said, the story made an impact on me regardless of my lack of perception. It is worth the read.

“My Three Girls” by Saleema Nawaz. A story of grief over a dead baby and how it affects the family, especially the mother through the years. The two older sisters are impacted by the death and the mother’s grief from childhood. As adults, new life brings hope.

Overall, though I found this book somewhat depressing, some enjoyable parts gave me breathing space. All the stories are well-worth reading, and gave in-depth insight into many of today’s lifestyles.

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