canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

So Beautiful

by Ramona Dearing
Porcupine's Quill, 2004

Reviewed by Adam Swimmer

I've never been a fan of short stories. Always taking me a chapter or two to get into a novel, most short stories end well before I could possibly become interested in them. That's not to say the format is completely lost on me. Certainly, the odd ones, such as Vonnegut's 'Harrison Bergeron' or Kafka's 'In the Penal Colony,' manage to crystallize a concept into a cohesive story of only a few pages. However, most seem to end suddenly never making any points to justify their ends.

This, unfortunately, is the case of Newfoundland writer's Ramona Dearing's collection So Beautiful. The collection's title comes from the story, 'So Beautiful the Firemen Would Cry' where a character explained she once tried to commit suicide and laid on her bed in such a beautiful way she thought the fireman would cry when they found her. Of course, that's not what the story's about. It's about her roommate and her skipping work to go site seeing on Bowen Island and bonding... Or not bonding... Or some such thing.

Dearing's writing differs from much of Canada's "literature" where often the prose supposedly stands on its own. You don't look at her stories and say, "Who cares her sentences don't mean anything because they look 'so beautiful' on the page." Her prose is far less embellished than those of many Canadian writers and she clearly is attempting to make some groundbreaking points in her little narratives. They're just not very profound.

In 'Fascia,' a man undergoes rolfing sessions and tells stories to his girlfriend about how his father mistreated him as a child. Of course, deep down he still loves him. In 'The Simple Truth' a woman remembers the no-good father who left and the stepfather who moved the family into a Yogic cult, because people who follow Eastern philosophy are crazy. In 'Visitors,' after a woman's house is broken into, her male friends come over and teach her trust exercises to prove she can rely on them, because men are overprotective of women.

In fact, trust, the inability to give it and or the misplacement of it, runs through many of the stories. From Beanie's roommate not being able to trust her toothbrush's safety after hearing how Beanie used to swish her old roomie's one in the toilet twice a day, to a court dealing with the fallout of a community's misplaced trust in a Christian brother who's on trial for abusing and molesting children at an orphanage he taught at. (The writer is from the East Coast, after all.)

But the trust motif doesn't add any depth to these stories. And in the case of 'The Apology,' it's not even clear that Gerard Lundrigan is in the wrong. I assume Dearing meant the story to be about Gerard coming to terms with what a monster he had been at the orphanage, apologize and take his penance. However, not only does he deny the molestations, he honestly believes he's never beat any of them. He does come off as arrogant. He creates a list in his head of how good a teacher he was and how he never let the children go hungry. He also writes the boys a letter of apology which condemns them for dragging him into court. There are passages showing him perhaps a little too firm with his pet dog. He's picked it up by the gruff of its neck, when it's being bad. It's just a hop, skip and a jump away to forcing young boys to suck on his penis. But in reality, there's really nothing in the story to give the impression these boys weren't making it all up. In fact, he doesn't even recognize one of the boys he supposedly taught. But I don't think it's intended to be that open-ended, because if it is, it's not clear what point Dearing is attempting to make.

But then perhaps I've read that one wrong. Perhaps I've read all her stories wrong. But even If I have misunderstood every single point she was making, it still doesn't make her stories entertaining. So Beautiful isn't so terrible. But it is so very dull.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.