From its first edition in 1989, this celebrated annual fiction anthology has consistently introduced readers to the next generation of great Canadian writers. With settings ranging from Thailand and war-torn Vietnam to a tiki bar in the Prairies, the thirteen stories in this collection represent the year's best short fiction by some of our most exciting emerging writers.
A friendship between two older women frays at the seams during a trip to Barcelona. After the sudden death of her grandmother, a student from Uganda finds solace in a chance encounter. Confused parents can only watch as their son's precocious understanding of the path to enlightenment leads him further into the unknown. The complexities of love reveal themselves as a family gathers by their mother's deathbed to say goodbye. As she waits to confront a student who has cheated on an assignment, a philosophy professor must contend with surprising photos posted on Facebook. A man begins a relationship with a scientist who wears a mechanical bear suit. While her community mourns in the aftermath of a tragedy, a woman must face her own complicity in what happened to her best friend. After she makes an instant connection with a man during a day trip to the Smithsonian, a writing student's struggle to find her own voice takes on greater urgency when he visits her at home. When a family reunion at a lakeside cottage is interrupted by the search for a drowned man's body, long-submerged desires and resentments gradually surface. Two sex addicts fall into a complicated sort of love.
About the authors
Kerry Clare reads and writes in Toronto, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her essays, short stories, and book reviews have appeared in the New Quarterly, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, Canadian Notes & Queries, Prairie Fire, Quill & Quire, Today's Parent, and other fine places. She writes about books and reading at her blog Pickle Me This and is editor at 49thShelf.com. Her essay "Love is a Let-Down" was nominated for a 2011 National Magazine Award and appeared in Best Canadian Essays 2011.
Excerpt: The Journey Prize Stories 30: The Best of Canada's New Writers (selected by Sharon Bala, Kerry Clare & Zoey Leigh Peterson)
A package arrived in the mail. Inside: exactly one hundred short stories with the authors’ names blacked out. Our job was to read them all and choose the very best for inclusion in the thirtieth edition of The Journey Prize Stories. The instructions were straightforward. The decisions were not.
One hundred disparate works of art, each a unique specimen with its own plot, characters, and style. What does it mean to be “the best”? Does it mean the most accomplished? The most original? The most ambitious? The most important or timely?
One requirement that was immediately obvious: the narrative of the story had to pull us in and keep us asking, “What happens next?” Crisp prose was desirable, of course, and deep emotion very welcome. But first and foremost, a story had to excite our curiosity and grip it to the end.
It also had to show us something new and, paradoxically, something old, something we recognized from the world. The stories that delighted us were ones that recast the familiar—stories that took an emotion, place, or theme we knew well and turned it to show us a new angle. Regina through the eyes of a student from Uganda; a mercurial friendship between two older women; being lost in the woods inside a bear that isn’t a bear; a story that name drops Cheever in the first paragraph, then veers in a direction Cheever would never have gone.
To be clear: we three jurors did not always see eye to eye, at least not on the first read. However, as we debated and reconsidered, our opinions shifted and coalesced. Unsurprisingly, the stories that emerged as our unanimous selections were ones that reward re-examination—tales so rich they reveal new insights on second, third, and even fourth reads.
This process of discussing and engaging and, ultimately, selecting has made us increasingly thoughtful and critical readers. As we whittled down the selections, we were forced to interrogate not just the stories, but also our own aesthetic preferences and biases. The thirteen that remain came through this crucible unscathed.
In this collection, you will find stories set in Vietnam and Spain and California, in a suburban strip mall in the Prairies, and at track level in a Toronto subway station. Some are minimalist, spare in detail but rich in emotional truth. Others are densely written, full of startling metaphor and image. There is birth. There is death. Also: love triangles, parental anxiety, betrayal, grief, adventure, unexpected moments of levity, and arresting dialogue. All are thoughtful explorations of what it means to be alive, rendered with inquisitiveness, insight, and uncertainty.
Yes, these stories are suspended in uncertainty—about what, exactly, has happened; about whose point of view is reliable; about what conclusions we might draw at a story’s end. At times, this can be unsettling for the characters and readers alike. But these thirteen stories also underline the expansive potential of uncertainty, which requires one to reach beyond the limits of their knowledge, and demands an openness to asking questions, considering different answers, and finding new possibilities in mutability.
For the past three decades, the Journey Prize anthology has been a harbinger, a sampling of the literary talent emerging in this country. This year in particular, as Canadian literature struggles to dismantle what is broken and rebuild a better, stronger culture from within, it is heartening to read the stories in this collection, each one meticulously crafted and told with precision and care. These stories and their authors, with their assured new voices, represent the future of literature in this country. And the future is hopeful.
Zoey Leigh Peterson