Short StoriesCreated by FranKimmel on July 28, 2011
In her lengthy and fascinating introduction Margaret Atwood says “Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. . . . Among writers themselves, her name is spoken in hushed tones.”
This splendid gift edition is sure to delight Alice Munro’s growing body of admirers, what Atwood calls her “devoted international reader …
Georgia got a part-time job in a bookstore, working several evenings a week. Ben went away on his yearly cruise. The summer turned out to be unusually hot and sunny for the West Coast. Georgia combed her hair out and stopped using most of her makeup and bought a couple of short halter dresses. Sitting on her stool at the front of the store, showing her bare brown shoulders and sturdy brown legs, she looked like a college girl — clever but full of energy and bold opinions. The people who came into the store liked the look of a girl — a woman — like Georgia. They liked to talk to her. Most of them came in alone. They were not exactly lonely people, but they were lonely for somebody to talk to about books. Georgia plugged in the kettle behind the desk and made mugs of raspberry tea. Some favored customers brought in their own mugs. Maya came to visit and lurked about in the background, amused and envious.
“You know what you’ve got?” she said to Georgia. “You’ve got a salon! Oh, I’d like to have a job like that! I’d even like an ordinary job in an ordinary store, where you fold things up and find things for people and make change and say thank you very much, and colder out today, will it rain?”
“You could get a job like that,” said Georgia.
“No, I couldn’t. I don’t have the discipline. I was too badly brought up. I can’t even keep house without Mrs. Hanna and Mrs. Cheng and Sadie.”
It was true. Maya had a lot of servants, for a modern woman, though they came at different times and did separate things and were nothing like an old-fashioned household staff. Even the food at her dinner parties, which seemed to show her own indifferent touch, had been prepared by someone else.
Usually, Maya was busy in the evenings. Georgia was just as glad, because she didn’t really want Maya coming into the store, asking for crazy titles that she had made up, making Georgia’s employment there a kind of joke. Georgia took the store seriously. She had a serious, secret liking for it that she could not explain. It was a long, narrow store with an old-fashioned funnelled entryway between two angled display windows. From her stool behind the desk Georgia was able to see the reflections in one window reflected in the other. This street was not one of those decked out to receive tourists. It was a wide east-west street filled in the early evening with a faintly yellow light, a light reflected off pale stucco buildings that were not very high, plain storefronts, nearly empty sidewalks. Georgia found this plainness liberating after the winding shady streets, the flowery yards and vine-framed windows of Oak Bay. Here the books could come into their own, as they never could in a more artful and enticing suburban bookshop. Straight long rows of paperbacks. (Most of the Penguins then still had their orange-and-white or blue-and-white covers, with no designs or pictures, just the unadorned, unexplained titles.) The store was a straight avenue of bounty, of plausible promises. Certain books that Georgia had never read, and probably never would read, were important to her, because of the stateliness or mystery of their titles. In Praise of Folly. The Roots of Coincidence. The Flowering of New England. Ideas and Integrities.
Sometimes she got up and put the books in stricter order. The fiction was shelved alphabetically, by author, which was sensible but not very interesting. The history books, however, and the philosophy and psychology and other science books were arranged according to certain intricate and delightful rules — having to do with chronology and content — that Georgia grasped immediately and even elaborated on. She did not need to read much of a book to know about it. She got a sense of it easily, almost at once, as if by smell.
At times the store was empty, and she felt an abundant calm. It was not even the books that mattered then. She sat on the stool and watched the street — patient, expectant, by herself, in a finely balanced and suspended state.
She saw Miles’ reflection — his helmeted ghost parking his motorcycle at the curb — before she saw him. She believed that she had noted his valiant profile, his pallor, his dusty red hair (he took off his helmet and shook out his hair before coming into the store), and his quick, slouching, insolent, invading way of moving, even in the glass.
It was no surprise that he soon began to talk to her, as others did. He told her that he was a diver. He looked for wrecks, and lost airplanes, and dead bodies. He had been hired by a rich couple in Victoria who were planning a treasure-hunting cruise, getting it together at the moment. Their names, the destination were all secrets. Treasure-hunting was a lunatic business. He had done it before. His home was in Seattle, where he had a wife and a little daughter.
Everything he told her could easily have been a lie.
He showed her pictures in books — photographs and drawings, of mollusks, jellyfish, the Portuguese man-of-war, sargasso weed, the Caribbean flying fish, the girdle of Venus. He pointed out which pictures were accurate, which were fakes. Then he went away and paid no more attention to her, even slipping out of the store while she was busy with a customer. Not a hint of a goodbye. But he came in another evening, and told her about a drowned man wedged into the cabin of a boat, looking out the watery window in an interested way. By attention and avoidance, impersonal conversations in close proximity, by his oblivious prowling, and unsmiling, lengthy, gray-eyed looks, he soon had Georgia in a disturbed and not disagreeable state. He stayed away two nights in a row, then came in and asked her, abruptly, if she would like a ride home on his motorcycle.
Georgia said yes. She had never ridden on a motorcycle in her life. Her car was in the parking lot; she knew what was bound to happen.
She told him where she lived. “Just a few blocks up from the beach,” she said.
“We’ll go to the beach, then. We’ll go and sit on the logs.”
That was what they did. They sat for a while on the logs. Then, though the beach was not quite dark or completely deserted, they made love in the imperfect shelter of some broom bushes. Georgia walked home, a strengthened and lightened woman, not in the least in love, favored by the universe.
“My car wouldn’t start,” she told the baby-sitter, a grandmother from down the street. “I walked all the way home. It was lovely, walking. Lovely. I enjoyed it so much.”
Her hair was wild, her lips were swollen, her clothes were full of sand.
Carol Shields, the Pulitzer Prize-winner author of the novels Unless, The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party was also a renowned short story writer. Now readers can enjoy all three of Carol Shields’s short story collections – Various Miracles, The Orange Fish and Dressing Up for the Carnival – in one volume, along with the previously unpublish …
Something has occurred to her – something transparently simple, something she’s always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we are still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost.
—From The Stone Diaries
Something is always saying to me: Be plain. Be clear. But then something else interferes and unjoints my good intentions.
Max and I were out yesterday morning, Sunday, a simple enough errand in our neighborhood. We “sallied forth” to buy a loaf of good seed bread and a potted plant, chrysanthemums in our case, with the smashed little faces that our daughter so admires, that bitter bronze color, matching the tablecloth she was sure to be laying right that moment out there in Oak Park. Eleven o’clock; my husband Max and I would be expected at half past twelve. We always arrive carrying a modest gift of some sort.
There, at the market, stimulated, probably, by the hint of frost in the air, I felt a longing to register the contained, isolated instant we had manufactured and entered, the purchase of the delicious hard-crusted bread, the decision over the potted plant – this was what I wanted to preserve. But an intrusive overview camera (completely imaginary, needless to say) bumped against me, so that instead of feeling the purity of the coins leaving my hand, I found myself watching the two of us, a man and a woman of similar height, both in their middle sixties, both slightly stooped – you’d hardly notice unless you were looking – and dressed in bright colors, making a performance of paying for their rounded and finite loaf of bread and then the burst of rusty chrysanthemums.
Wait a minute. Shouldn’t there be a grandchild in this picture, a little boy or girl staying over with Nana and Poppa in downtown Chicago for the weekend? Well, no, our aging couple has not been so fortunate.
Our Sunday self-consciousness, the little mid-morning circle around Max and me, was bisected by light and dark. The day bloomed into mildness, October 7, one year and one month after the September 11 tragedy – event, spectacle, whatever you choose to call it. Max is a well-known Chicago novelist – he both loves and hates that regional designation – and he was, of course, spotted by other Sunday morning shoppers. That’s Max Sexton. Where? Over there. Really? A little buzz travels with my husband, around him and above him, which, I believe, dishes out the gold dust that keeps him alive. To be noticed, to be recognized. With his white beard, white swifts of soft hair swept backward, his old-fashioned, too-large horn-rimmed spectacles, he is a familiar enough sight in our immediate neighborhood, and – allow me to say – in the national journals too, even to the point that he has been mentioned once or twice in the same breath with the Nobel Prize (as a dark horse, the darkest of horses). Not that we ever speak of this. It does not come up, we forbid it, the two of us. He has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer – we don’t speak of that either.
There we were, yesterday morning, a fine Sunday.
Accompanying the novelist Max Sexton was his wife of forty years – me – whose name is Jane; I had my right arm crooked loosely through the great author’s blue nylon jacket sleeve. Plain Jane. Well, not quite, God be thanked. My very good scarf gives me a certain look, not just its color, but the fact that it was knotted high up on the throat. Jane, the wife, the poet and editor, soon (tomorrow) to become past president of the American Sonnet Society – now known as Sonnet Revival – she with her hair in a smooth white pageboy and her reasonably trim body, c’est moi. Notice the earrings, handmade, Mexican. Wouldn’t you just know! Oh God, yes. Yesterday, at the Andersonville market in Chicago’s near-north side, Jane Sexton was sporting an excellent cashmere poncho-thingamajig, deep rose in color, and well-fitting black pants and expensive boots, which she always keeps nicely polished.
Let me say it: I am an aging woman of despairing good cheer–just look through the imaginary camera lens and watch me as I make the Sunday morning transaction over the bread, then the flowers, my straw tote from our recent holiday in Jamaica, my smile, my upturned sixty-seven-year-old voice, a voice so crying-out and clad with familiarity that, in fact, I can’t hear it anymore myself, thank God; my ears are blocked. Lately everything to do with my essence has become transparent, neutral: Good morning, Jane Sexton smiles to one and all (such a friendly, down-to-earth woman). “What a perfect fall day.” “What glorious blooms!” “Why, Mr. Henning, this bread is still warm! Can this be true?”
Max must surely hear the scattershot of my neighborhood greetings, so fond in their expression and so traditionally patterned, exactly what healthy, seasoned, amiable women learn to say in such chapters of their lives. He has, after so many years, a certain amount of faith in my voice, if nothing else, the voice that he’s married to, but then he doesn’t believe, I suspect, that the mystery of being is as deeply manifest in women as in men. The voice, as he perfectly well knows, is a social projection, an oral accomplishment, something I’ve created and maintained along with my feminine peers. I’m just being merry – that’s how I imagine Max processing my ebullience – I’m being cordial in a way that may be slightly dishonest but that keeps life from bearing down with its solemn weight, keeps it nosing forward, and overrides the worst possible story the day might otherwise offer, his story, that is, which could quickly turn dreary and strangulated without my floating social descant riding overhead on strings of nylon. Oh, do shut up, Jane.
Yes, there we stood: the morning’s excursion to the market, which we managed to stretch out an hour longer than it should have taken, then the taxi to our daughter’s house in Oak Park, her austere three-story brick cube on East Avenue (built 1896) where she lives with her film agent husband, Ivan, with its wide front steps and shrubbery and cement cupids – where we were to have lunch, as usual on Sundays, something hot and savory in the dining room, followed by fresh fruit (on French fruit plates, each one different in design, and accompanied by knives with ceramic handles) and afterward coffee, and then the journey home. Ivan, without a word of complaint, will drive us back to our downtown apartment, silently ferrying his mother-in-law, his father-in-law (he is a man who cannot drive and talk at the same time), eastward through the light Sunday traffic, taking Chicago Avenue as usual. He will actually back his old Packard out of the Oak Park garage, slowly, down the narrow overgrown driveway with its scraping branches, wincing as he hears his beautifully restored car suffering instances of minute damage.
From the Hardcover edition.
“The collection consistently does what the oeuvre does best: communicate intense emotion with force, give life to characters that struggle with their circumstances, illuminate the universal through the specific and the particular, and turn the commonplace into art.” Globe and Mail
“[The anthology] amuses, astonishes, and enlightens; it is …
From the Introduction
Writers select their most polished short stories to submit to journals. From what they receive, the journals' editors choose what they feel are the most surprising and gripping stories to publish, then winnow those published stories again to find those they consider most worthy of inclusion in a national anthology. That's when the packages show up in the Journey Prize jury's mailboxes – this year, filled with seventy-two nuanced, deeply imagined, and sharply written pieces of short fiction.
What a pleasure to read so many stellar explorations of a challenging literary form. What an education, too. And what a terrifying challenge to look at what the best literary editors in Canada consider the best stories, and to try to choose the best of those. The pleasure and education far outweighed the terror, but still it was daunting. Brilliant short stories can be brilliant along any number of metrics – realism or strangeness, elegance or blunt simplicity, tight plotting or sprawling authenticity. Comparison is fraught and dubious at best. All we can do, whether in the role of judge, teacher, or simply happy reader, is to consider what the writer was trying to achieve, how well he or she succeeded in that goal, and how excited the reader is about that success.
One terribly exciting success, in our opinion, is "The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale" by Daniel Griffin. This subtle and complicated story of art, love, and lust moves forward on the grim trajectory of death, but also draws haunting life from its central character, Skylar, and his admission to himself of all he truly feels, and longs for. His son's illness renews their relationship and their uneasy intimacy, full of envy, rivalry, and fierce affection for beauty. Griffin has taken on considerable challenges in portraying the working lives of artists, and has done so with amazing, and heartbreaking, force.
Adrian Michael Kelly's "Lure" is also a story about a father and a son, but Kelly's is an altogether different art, full of the simple intensity of a child's observation. Kelly doesn't trouble the reader with anything but the moment as the boy sees it. The drama inheres in a child's anxiety over pleasing his father, over the life of a frog, and the taste of a sandwich. Although "Lure" does have a climax of adult pain, it is the boy's perceptions and tensions that dominate, and it is to Kelly's infinite credit that this seems not a limitation but an illumination.
To continue with family stories, Sarah L. Taggart's "Deaf " is told from alternating perspectives of a mother and her young daughter, both missing a sense of so many things in their lives. The glittering percision of Taggart's language allows for both the humour of children bickering over ketchup and the quotidian tragedy of adults ground down by both hope and disappointment. Taggart never diminishes her characters' lives of canned tomatoes and Hungry Hungry Hippos, nor does she lionize them or excuse their bad behaviour. She just achieves that incredible literary summit of bringing them to life.
The gift in all of these stories lies in the adage of showing rather than telling. Particularly rich in this regard are those stories that immerse us in specific histories or geographies, making setting integral to and inseparable from the events and emotions of the characters.
Yasuko Thanh's "Floating Like the Dead" takes us into a little-known and painful chapter in Canadian history. Here, the few remaining inhabitants of a turn-of-the-century colony of Chinese lepers off the coast of b.c. spend the last of their days clinging to something as futile as hope. The limits of language, racism, and poverty have already defined their immigrant lives. Their alienation becomes complete as their bodies rebel and repel, and they are exiled to die in isolation. They must use their declining strength to battle a rugged geography they cannot beat. The forest is primeval and eternal and the western breezes across the Pacific can only remind them of the China of their youths. Thanh strikes that difficult balance between depicting bigger worlds and worlds within, and uses the resonances between the internal and external to subtle and graceful effect. This is a story of brittle beauty, which gives as much room to the unspoken as the spoken.
In "Highlife," Paul Headrick similarly addresses imminent death, the silences that precede it, and the sounds that surround it. A husband and wife, together for twenty-six years, become unglued from each other in the face of the husband's illness and the anger that consequently possesses him. He is a lover of music – an academic, a radio host, and a critic – making a pilgrimage of sorts to Ghana with his wife. He is looking to hear highlife music in its original context – buoyant life-affirming sounds – but he and his wife are largely silent companions on this trip; there is little he is compelled to voice aloud. Against the heat and confusion, the dancing bodies and the music, his life – and her life in relation to him – are coming to a painful end. In this case it is the contrast between internal and external worlds, the disconnect between them, that gives the story its poignancy, isolating the characters from each other and the world around them.
“Considering the number of popular and prize-winning writers who have a Journey Prize as part of their resume, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that this volume is the future of Canadian writing. . . . And the future seems bright indeed.” — Robert Wiersema, Ottawa Citizen
The Journey Prize Stories is widely celebrated as the premiere showca …
Discover the next generation of great Canadian writers with this highly acclaimed annual anthology.
For more than two decades, The Journey Prize Stories has been presenting the best short stories published each year by some of Canada's most exciting up-and-coming new writers. Previous contributors — including such now well-known, bestselling write …
READING THE 2010 JOURNEY PRIZE STORIES
A CONVERSATION WITH PASHA MALLA, JOAN THOMAS, AND ALISSA YORK
ALISSA YORK: There’s so much to say about the jurying process. It was an intense, immersive experience, reading and evaluating all those diverse narratives; at times my mind swam with characters and settings, images and events. In the end, though, I believe we all zeroed in on those stories that really stayed with us – the ones that not only moved into our hearts and minds, but stuck around to unpack.
JOAN THOMAS: When you think about it, all we read was the equivalent in pages of two or three novels – and yet there were all those separate imagined worlds to enter. The writer of a short story has so few pages to set up the rules of the game and then play it out. I found I had to do my reading in short sessions to really savour the concentrated force of each story.
PASHA MALLA: One thing I think we were all looking for was to be surprised. And I hope readers of this anthology will find surprises – whether in language, structure, voice, emotional oomph, or in the unexpected twists and turns of a well-told story.
AY: Absolutely – good fiction surprises us the way life does, which is odd, given how easily a story can fail by sticking to “what really happened.” I find the sweetest surprises are often the small ones, such as the moment in Lynne Kutsukake’s “Mating” when the protagonist focuses on the whorl of greying hair at the crown of his wife’s head and feels “an inexplicable tenderness for this secret spot, a sudden urge to protect it with the palm of his hand.” Nothing like getting swept up in a character’s unexpected rush of love.
JT: It was remarkable to see what different stories two writers could produce on similar subjects – in the case of “Mating” and Carolyn Black’s “Serial Love,” a subject as specific as speed dating. “Mating” beautifully juxtaposes traditional Japanese cultural attitudes with contemporary dating practices, and “Serial Love” listens in on a first encounter between a man and woman and reveals menace in every word and gesture. It’s a story of such precisely balanced ambiguity that its possibilities surprise you with every reading.
PM: And then there were those stories that grab you by the throat from the first line. From their cracking openings on, every sentence of Damian Tarnopolsky’s “Laud We the Gods” and Mike Spry’s “Five Pounds Short and Apologies to Nelson Algren” is visceral, unsettling, uncompromising, and astonishing. Both are told in the sort of voice that needles its way into your brain and stays with you long after the story is over.
JT: I’ve come around to thinking that point of view is everything, how fully you inhabit it. Devon Code’s “Uncle Oscar,” for example, pleased me with every detail that fell under the alert eye of the thirteen-year-old protagonist: the upsidedown milk crate that served as a footstool in the basement tv room, a Sepultura T-shirt and an Ibanez guitar, the smell of the unbathed uncle (“a sweet smell like brown bananas”) – it’s Leo’s eye on ordinary stuff that aligns us entirely with his experience.
AY: Yes, and those same details often serve as evidence of an original mind at work. Among others, I’m thinking here of “The Dead Dad Game” by Laura Boudreau and “Ship’s Log” by Eliza Robertson, both of which deliver fresh, even startling, takes on the popular theme of childhood loss and grief.
PM: I think that sort of originality is what really set these twelve stories apart from the rest of the pack – which is saying something, as I don’t think there was a single one of the seventy-four submissions that wasn’t a solid, well-crafted piece of writing.
AY: I love the fact that the search for the “best writing” led us to such diverse styles: the mad aria of “Laud We the Gods” at one end of the spectrum; the haunting plainsong of Andrew Boden’s “Confluence of Spoors” at the other. So different from one another and so perfectly themselves.
JT: And, of course, to diverse worlds – it’s always a small miracle to find a world created whole within a short story. I was especially struck by writers who used settings we know and managed to disorient us by peeling back that sense of the familiar. “Confluence of Spoors” did it in a stroke, as a hunter follows a trail of blood into Vancouver’s East Side. Danielle Egan’s “Publicity” did it too, giving us a barely futuristic and surreal Vancouver.
PM: “Confluence of Spoors” is a good example of a story, too, that deserves and benefits from repeat readings. To me that’s the mark of a truly strong piece of short fiction: something that engages on the surface, but then, when you go back to it a second (and third) time, gets richer, more nuanced and layered. I feel the same way about “Ship’s Log,” which is immediately captivating and charming, but sneaks up on you emotionally; you finish, gutted, and want to go back and figure out what was really going on the whole time.
JT: Then of course there was our conversation the day the jury met to discuss the stories, which opened up all sorts of new meanings in the stories. “When in the Field with Her at His Back” is one of the stories that I thought especially rewards a second look. You’re aware of the buried past as a diplomat returns to postwar Eastern Croatia to look for an old lover. Revisiting this story, I realized how skilfully Ben Lof had knit his characters’ lives together through the image of unexploded landmines.
AY: I agree, the landmines worked beautifully – a perfect underlying symbol for a story about the fragmented, dissociative state so many suffer in the wake of war. I’m fascinated by the power of well-chosen objects in many of these narratives: the soggy picture of Marilyn Monroe in Andrew MacDonald’s coming-of-age piece, “Eat Fist!” (“I find her pulpy corpse floating in the drinking fountain.”); the perfectly creepy Curious George poster in “Five Pounds Short and Apologies to Nelson Algren.” And Pasha, I remember you brought up the impact of the tights-as-tourniquet in “The Longitude of Okay” by Krista Foss – devastating!
PM: Yeah, and also, in the same story, the belt used to secure the classroom door – there’s such power in the dramatic repurposing of everyday objects, imbuing them with sudden, unexpected narrative and emotional resonance. That sort of thing always sticks with me, and maybe speaks more broadly to what I often love in fiction: seeing the familiar cast in a new light.
JT: What moved me most about “The Longitude of Okay” were Krista Foss’s characters. This story, about a school shooting, could so easily have been contained and prescribed by its subject, but it became instead an insightful exploration of the teacher’s self-doubt. And the students are deftly drawn in a few strokes. They’re so real.
PM: The last thing I wanted to mention, and which we haven’t touched on, was humour. Being funny is so hard to do well, as it relies so much on surprising the reader, and “Uncle Oscar” and “Serial Love” have some killer lines that totally cracked me up. Devon Code’s thirteen-year-old narrator imagining cocaine to “feel like taking 500 dumps all at once” is so perfectly hilarious, and I laughed out loud a number of times at Carolyn Black’s wonderfully dry descriptions of speed dating.
AY: So often those moments that make us laugh (or cry, for that matter) occur when the writer has hit the nail on the head, getting a character’s voice, thought, or action exactly right. It’s perhaps the fundamental challenge of writing convincing, compelling fiction, this business of spinning people out of the air – a challenge that the contributors to this year’s edition of The Journey Prize Stories meet and exceed with style.
Told with arresting candor, Leslie Greentree’s short fiction creates the satisfying sense of discovering someone’s long-kept secret, or the guilty pleasure of overhearing a scathing conversation. A housewife indulges in monthly purchases of specialty vinegar and savours her romantic fantasies about the local grocery store manager; a daughter ca …
Longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Brilliantly sure-footed, strikingly original, tender and funny, this collection of nine linked stories follows a diverse group of curiously interrelated characters—from bank manager to crackhead to retired Samaritan to web designer to car thief--as they drift through each others’ lives in Vancouver …