canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

One Manís Trash
by Ivan E. Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002

by Alex Boyd

The stories in One Manís Trash almost read like a novel, given that Coyote has made herself the first person narrator in all of them, keeping a very conversational style throughout. Born and raised in the Yukon, she appears to take the stories from her own life, which might have come across as unimaginative or self-centred, but Ivan (Elizabeth) Coyote is almost consistently charming and interesting, and chooses worthwhile moments to write about. I have to admit that Weak Nine, a three page story about quitting smoking (then starting again) left me not really caring. And The Safe Way, a story of similar length about flirting in a Safeway, also feels like a fragment, not as complete or interesting as it could be.

But fortunately, many of the pieces (certainly the longer ones) are far stronger, as Coyote chooses more interesting material and takes the time to introduce more characters. Despite an abrupt ending, Fear and Hoping in Las Vegas, about her attempts to marry her girlfriend, is an excellent story:

"You mean the guy who was watching pornos in the chapel was morally opposed to marrying us?" My voice was calm, but my stomach was made of lead.

"Yeah, I guess so. He said he could lose his license. He said he could do it for five hundred cash, but I didnít know if you had that kind of money on you. He left me his pager number. I can call him if you want." Greg stood on one leg, then the other.

"SoÖhe is morally opposed, unless we have five hundred dollars."

Most of the book is her voice, and sheís good company, but Coyote also has a talent for capturing others as they sound, as in Older Women, and the lecture she gets from a neighbour. The old man believes Coyote to be a young man, and has seen her with her girlfriend:

"You realize a womanís love is like a fly?" He raised an eyebrow at me. "And just like a fly, her love is just as likely to land on a pile of shit as it is a rose." He took out his hanky, blew his nose, and stuffed it into the front pocket of his trousers. "What I mean is, donít ask yourself why a beautiful girl might love you, just be glad she picked you to love.

At times, Coyote remains conversational ("On impact, tears and snot and all the air in my lungs were expelled") but also gets a little more poetic ("He smiled weakly, like January sun"). She divides the book into sections that cover her past "Then," the present "Now," and a section on road trips, "There." But most importantly, this is a highly enjoyable, even if slightly uneven collection of stories. Personally, I look forward to her novel. And in the meantime, lines like this, from Trick Road Trip should charm any reader:

"Life was almost perfect, until yesterday when I found a black polyester shirt with yellow and red sparkly flames all over it, and now it is sublime."

Alex Boyd is a Toronto writer of poetry, essays and fiction, with samples online at







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