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Fiction Short Stories (single Author)

On Beauty


by (author) rob mclennan

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2024
Short Stories (single author), 21st Century
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2024
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2024
    List Price

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On Beauty is a provocative collection of moments, confessions, overheard conversations, and memories, both fleeting and crystalized, revolving around the small chasms and large craters of everyday life. Situated at the crossroads of prose and poetry, these 33 vignettes explore the rhythm, textures, and micro-moments of lives in motion, asking how decisions might connect and in turn affect the future. rob mclennan’s brief stories play with form and language, capturing the act of record-keeping while in the process of living those records, offering a dappled, polaroid-like effect. Parenting and the intimate everyday warmth of home life figure prominently, as does the duplicity of memory and the immediacies of human grief, pain, and joy. Throughout the collection, the worlds of literature and art infuse into fragments of the everyday. mclennan’s prose is rich, sensitive, and vivid, composed with a poet’s eye for detail and ear for rhythm. A welcome record of human connection and belonging, On Beauty will leave readers grappling with metafictional questions of how stories are produced and passed through generations.

About the author

Born in Ottawa in 1970 at the late lamented Grace Hospital on Wellington Street near Parkdale Avenue, rob mclennan currently lives in directly between Ottawa`s Chinatown and Little Italy neighbourhoods, and was called "Centretown`s poet laureate" by David Gladstone in The Centretown Buzz in the mid-1990s. The author of twelve previous trade poetry collections in Canada and England, he has published poetry, fiction, interviews, reviews and columns in over two hundred publications in fourteen countries and in four languages, and done reading tours in five countries on two continents. The editor/publisher of above/ground press and the long poem magazine STANZAS (both founded in 1993), the online critical journal (with Ottawa poet Stephen Brockwell) and the Ottawa poetry annual ottawater (, he edits the ongoing Cauldron Books series through Broken Jaw Press, edited the anthologies Evergreen: six new poets (Black Moss Press), side/lines: a new canadian poetics (Insomniac Press), GROUNDSWELL: the best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press) and Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets (Chaudiere Books), and runs the semi-annual ottawa small press book fair, which he co-founded in 1994, currently under the umbrella of the small press action network - ottawa (span-o), which he also runs. Fall 2007 sees the appearance of a new poetry collection with Ireland`s Salmon Publishing, a collection of literary essays appears with Toronto`s ECW Press, and a title for Vancouver publisher Arsenal Pulp Press, Ottawa: The Unknown City. His online home is at, and he often posts reviews, essays, rants and other nonsense at

rob mclennan's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“What is the responsibility of ‘building a person’? rob mclennan's On Beauty accumulates searing questions, and delves into the deep memory of consciousness 'held in amber.' How might we wake from loss and conduct internal excavations? He writes: ‘The tricky part of our travel was in attempting to speak solo to my younger self. . . I woke before the narrative completed.’ Woven with threads of ancestral memoir, this collage of stories collects the habits of those attempting to swerve from conventions of elegy—and what comes 'after.' We proceed through glowing fragments: ‘paper dolls and Red Rose figurines. . . placed on every surface. Set out to safeguard.’ A deeply moving portrait, from embryonic scrapbooks and quotidian diaries to the many births which compose a life. A deft encounter with what happens when—'We won’t allow our dead to disappear.’” Laynie Browne, Intaglio Daughters

"Written in a prose style that at times is so chrome-shiny it dazzles, On Beauty visits the vagaries of the questing mind, 'the secret origins of the everyday,' and the hopes, dreams, memories, and losses that burden us all. This is a superb collection." M.A.C. Farrant, author of Jigsaw: A Puzzle in Ninety-Three Pieces

"rob mclennan’s On Beauty is an astonishing work of literary panache, a collection of brief, elliptical stories that make a virtue of their brevity, terse words carved out of the white space of the page, glowing with wit, startling juxtaposition, crashing sadness, and sly comedy. For each story there is an emotional core, the thing of the story, an ordinary human thing involving birth, death, marriage, and parenthood, around which mclennan elaborates swirling arabesques of language, image, and thought. Figure and ground, object and mystery. Author as a lone skater on a pristine sheet of ice, unscrolling his mind. mclennan’s sentences are elegantly dramatic and precise. He is a master of the sapient aphorism, the exquisite detail, and cascading sequences of word associations that are pure poetry. Two things to notice especially in this regard: the stories are grounded in place (Ottawa and the Valley landscape streaming by), but there are a dozen very short texts all entitled “On Beauty,” together to be read as part of mclennan’s strategy of contrasting and alternating figure and ground. The real, the human, and the Canadian are set inside the frame of beauty. Beauty insists. All this life is beautiful, the author says." Douglas Glover, author of Elle and Savage Love

"Though I am often mistrustful of literary notions of Beauty, I am not being ironic when I say this book of stories On Beauty is in fact Beautiful. It’s a beauty attributable, in part, to the author’s response to wide philosophical and literary readings over time, little threads of which wind comfortably through these almost conversational tales of everyday life in a city called Ottawa. rob mclennan, the critic, is also a thoughtful reader of poetry. It is not surprising, then, that his sentences are written with the ear of a poet, forging the painful dramas and small pleasures of the everyday lives of generations, of neighbours, in ordinary neighbourhood contexts, into an episodic suite that has the depth and complexity of a good novel. Above all, I am struck by the descriptive accuracy of the prose, the hot Ottawa streets, for example, that I also remember from childhood. The details of a certain Scottish heritage. The portrait of a city almost empty in the middle [save for the Parliament]. The relations of son to Mother, Father, children. On Beauty underscores once more that it takes a good reader to make good writing." Gail Scott, author of Furniture Music: A Northern in Manhattan: Poets/Politics [2008-2012]

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