canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Short Fiction in Canada, 2004/05

May 2005

by Michael Bryson

Interesting! Once again Quebec is confirmed as a distinct society. And these are only books in English! More experimental short story books published in English in Quebec than experimental short story books published in Toronto. (Who would have thunk it?)

As part of TDR's ongoing investigation on the state of the short story in Canada, we offer the below look at the ReLit Awards short fiction long list, which consists of 30 short story collections published in 2004. It is not the complete list of short fiction titles published in Canada in 2004, but it is the most complete list available to our knowledge. 

True to the spirit of the ReLit Awards, the list consists of books published by Canada's small presses, thus some notable Canadian short story titles from 2004 are missing, including Alice Munro's Runaway, David Bezmozgis's Natasha, and Carrie Snyder's Hair Hat. Strangely, Jessica Grant's Making Light of Tragedy is also not included, nor is David McGimpsey's Certifiable or Greg Kearney's Mommy Daddy Baby.

What we are left with, then, is a list of 30 short fiction titles (see the list). 

What can we say about this list? 

First, 15 of the books are written by men, 15 are written by women, a balance which may surprise, since it's recently been reported that 80-90 per cent of the fiction-buying public are women

Where were the books published?

West Ontario Quebec East
9 13 5 3

These numbers come awful close to lining up against the population in each region, one million people per short story book. (Regional bias, what regional bias?)

Perhaps more meaningful ways to categorize the list exist? Can we separate the books into sub-genres; place them on a continuum, say, between hard realism and highly speculative fiction? Set aside the titles that seem closer to memoir than fiction? 

First, some critiques of Canadian literature generally:

  • Matthew Firth: "In Canada, working-class fiction is virtually non-existent. Our writers are mostly grant-fed university grads working comfortably within the system. Our country's literary institutionalization is so vast and smothering that we will never produce a Bukowski" (Ottawa Xpress, March 24, 2005).
  • Anonymous: "It seems as though the only short fiction collections I see now come from carefully marketed authors, photogenic folks from folksy backgrounds and the like. Some of them are talented and one shouldn't begrudge them their success, but the problem is they're not an example but the rule, and you can tell that their anticipated next book is a novel" (private email to TDR).
  • Ryan Bigge: "A few years ago, a cluster of talented, young Canadian authors ... were bending and breaking the canon to suit their purposes and, somehow, instead of being excommunicated for heresy, were receiving plenty of attention. ... They dealt in drugs, sex and urban settings; nary a wheat field within view. But this year, HipLit has decided to grow up a little, or at the very least, get a job, shave off the goatee and buy a crisp new suit" ("The Hip and the Dead", 2004).
  • Peter Darbyshire: "The Canadian short story is rather conservative in relation to the short stories coming out of other countries. I think the short story form is ideal for experimentation and interludes from reality, but the Canadian short story remains mired in realism. There are a few exceptions, such as Gary Barwin's work, but those are very definitely exceptions. Most of the Canadian stories I read revolve around conventional heterosexual relationships that are themselves filters for various identity politics: ethnic, sexual, political, religious, historic or even just interrogations of the self" (email to TDR).
  • Ray Robertson: "I've ranted long and loud enough about one of the telltale symptoms of tepid McCanLit -- namely, the prodigality of 'domestic drama' fiction -- so for now it's enough to simply say that a national moratorium on short stories and novels about parental emotional neglect and love affairs gone painfully awry might be something the Canada Council of the Arts should look into" (Mental Hygiene, Insomniac Press, 2003).
  • Russell Smith: "The most passionate stories can happen in suburbs and minivans. You don’t need to be in the Holocaust and it doesn’t have to be foreign or depressed. It doesn’t have to be a family saga, a history that goes back generations to a disaster in the nineteenth century, or whatever. I think that there’s a gothic tendency in Canadian fiction of the nationalist era. ... fiction no longer has to be about the land. The land actually influences us very little here, you know. We live in cities like everyone else in the world" (The Notebooks, Random House, 2002).
  • Christian Bök: "Avant-garde fiction in Canada has never enjoyed much cultural prestige, largely because such fiction has often called into question the pragmatic, if not parochial, values of cultural identity still dominant in much of our realist fiction" (Ground Works: Avant-Garde For Thee, Anansi, 2002).

One would think, given this exhaustive (and exhausting) list of complaints demanding -- what exactly? -- something different to read, yes -- but what? -- that Canadian fiction is in a state of calcified conservatism. Ryan Bigge goes so far in his essay to claim that a new generation of fiction writers arrived in 2002:

The recent burst of hopeful fury was fuelled by The Notebooks, an anthology of fiction and interviews with 17 contemporary Canadian writers, that arrived in the Spring of 2002, courtesy of Random House. ... Influenced by technology and popular culture, often experimental or challenging, all young(ish), The Notebooks made it clear that CanLit had turned another corner, or, at the very least, was offering a few more corners with sharp edges.

But that the wave broke, and scant two years later had sunk again to a low water mark in the Spring of 2004: "And so, revelations in style, topic or form are hiding below ground this Spring, not yet ready to bloom."

Oh, woh! The state of Canadian fiction!

But is it really so bad?

No one, apparently, has much good to say about the state of fiction in Canada -- though the younger generation tend to avoid framing questions of quality in nationalist terms. On the poetry side, for example, Carmine Starnino has said in an interview in this publication that "a good Canadian poem must, in a sense, be cool to its Canadianness." Thirty years ago, much literary activity was spent pursuing exactly the opposite purpose: CanLit existed then to define Canadianness. In her Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Anansi, 1972), Margaret Atwood remarked that "writing Canadian literature has been historically a very private act, one from which even an audience was excluded, since a lot of the time there was no audience" (14). Survival, and a host of books exploring Canadiana, undertook corrective action.

Over the past 30 years, an audience has emerged for Canadian literature -- through the dogged determination of enigmatic publishers like Jack McClelland and glitzy award shows like the Giller and Griffin Prizes. The loyalty of the younger generation of Canadian writers, however, isn't to the nationalist project of the 1970s. It is more to the noun than the adjective, to "literature" not "Canadian." 

Put more clearly, as the quotations above illustrate, the arguments about Canadian fiction are not about nationality -- they are about aesthetic preferences -- they are, largely, about reorganizing the hierarchy of Canadian fiction away from "realism" and towards ... the "avant-garde" (Bök) ... "pure quirk" (Bigge) ... "Bukowski" (Firth) ... not "foreign or depressed" (Smith) ... "experimentation" (Darbyshire). 

Robertson: "There is no such thing as Canadian writers but only writers who happen to be Canadian" (21).

Interestingly, in her introduction to Ground Works: Avant-Garde For Thee, an anthology of Canadian experimental fiction published between 1965 and 1985, the same Margaret Atwood who played such a significant role in defining CanLit in nationalistic terms wrote:

I admit to being the instigator of this book. I agitated for it because a body of work that deserved to be recalled and set within its original frame was slipping from view, leaving the young folks with the impression that there was nothing unorthodox in this country before folks started getting their tongues pierced (ix).

And in Mental Hygiene, Robertson quoted Morley Callaghan, one of the few CanLit icons who pre-dates the 1970s:

Forget all about the words 'identity' and 'culture,' just never mention them. Seek only excellence and in good time people all over the world will ask about Canadians (21).

In other words, Carmine Starnino is not the first to offer the advice that "a good Canadian poem must, in a sense, be cool to its Canadianness." The fight for the aesthetic soul of Canadian fiction began well before 2002. While nationalism may have been the dominant theme of the 1970s, literary experimentation for its own sake has always had a part in the nation's literary culture; a marginal part, to be sure, but a vital part.

Back in 1968, when Alice Munro published her first book, Dance of the Happy Shades (McGraw-Hill Ryerson), one of the era's leading men of Canadian letters, Hugh Garner, wrote in the foreword to that book:

The second-rate writers, the writers manques, the professional-commercial writers, find it impossible to write about ordinary people in ordinary situations, living ordinary lives, and make the people, their lives and their situations not only plausible and pleasureable but artistically alive. Hence their reliance on the grotesque, the far-out theme, the "different" or snob character, and the exotic or non-existent locale. The literary artist, on the other hand, uses people we all know, situations which are familiar to us and places we know or remember (vii).

As a defense of "realism," Garner's foreword will have to do, since I can find no other, particularly in reference to the state of Canadian fiction in the 21st-century. For 37 years now, Munro has pursued her vision. Leave it to an American to state unqualified admiration for Munro's approach to her work. Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, and one of the young knights of American literature, described Munro in a review of Runaway in The New York Times as "the best fiction writer now working in North America" (November 14, 2004):

I want to circle around Munro's latest marvel of a book, Runaway, by taking some guesses at why her excellence so dismayingly exceeds her fame. 

  1. Munro's work is all about storytelling pleasure. The problem here being that many buyers of serious fiction seem rather ardently to prefer lyrical, tremblingly earnest, faux-literary stuff. 
  2. As long as you're reading Munro, you're failing to multitask by absorbing civics lessons or historical data. Her subject is people. People people people. If you read fiction about some enriching subject like Renaissance art or an important chapter in our nation's history, you can be assured of feeling productive. But if the story is set in the modern world, and if the characters' concerns are familiar to you, and if you become so involved with a book that you can't put it down at bedtime, there exists a risk that you're merely being entertained. 

By contrast, I quote more from the email from Peter Darbyshire:

I see very little in the way of experimentation at the textual level or in the codes of storytelling. There seem to be very few writers in Canada who are interested in rewriting the parameters of fiction. We don't seem to have any equivalent to Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories, Aimee Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Adam Johnson's Emporium, George Saunders' Civilwarland in Bad Decline, Etgar Keret's The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God -- and we certainly don't have an equivalent to Matthew Derby's Super Flat Times.

I think maybe we're so caught up in cultural/ethnic identity politics -- it does overwrite so much of our lives -- that we tend to ignore other subjects. It's rare, for instance, to see a Canadian writer grapple with scientific theories or economic mutations. It's rare for these things to even be in the background of most Canadian writers' works. I think our fictional landscape has changed little in the last fifty or sixty years -- we're so sealed off from change that we could be some sort of Disney attraction.

There's nothing wrong with realism and the short stories of Munro, Shields, etc., but we seem to be simply replicating the same old models instead of creating new forms/stories. We have a lot of good writers -- I just wish more of them took chances and got outside of their neighbourhoods a little more often.

Interestingly, Darbyshire added:

And, in the spirit of generalization, I'd say most Canadian tales tend to be urban in nature. Our rural spaces, it seems, have been left to the poets.

While the quotation from Smith above seems to suggest otherwise: "The land actually influences us very little here, you know. We live in cities like everyone else in the world."

What's going on?

An article in The Globe and Mail (April 19, 2005) on a new anthology of Canadian poetry published in the United States perhaps offers a clue. The article quoted the publisher of Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets (Persea Books):

[Gabe] Fried said he was impressed by the depth of talent among poets he had never experienced. 

"There's a kind of intersection of the formal and the experimental. In Canada, it seems that poets are often both, whereas here, you're usually either one or the other," he said (italics added). 

Fried added (in what must have been a fit of blind stupidity): 

"My own speculation is that it has to do with a prim British inheritance meeting the wild landscapes of Canada. There's a wild elegance."

(Oh, CanLit and "the land": Enough already. On April 20, 2005, Noah Richler began a 10 part series on CBC Radio about Canadian literature with the topic "the virtues of being nowhere." Aghhh!)

The sense that Canadian literature embraces both the experimental and the traditional has also been picked up by University of Toronto professor and author of The Canadian Postmodern: A Study of Contemporary English-Canadian Fiction (1989), Linda Hutcheon. In an interview with Joseph Pivato, she noted:

In the Canadian novel, where we’ve had a strong tradition of realism, realism doesn’t disappear from postmodern fiction. It gets used, but it also gets abused: realism will be invoked in the text, it will be milked for all of its power, and then will get subverted. It’s as if the Canadian postmodern wants to have its cake and eat it too.

J.M. Kertzer, in a review of The Canadian Postmodern, provides a broader context:

In contrast to critics who lament that Canadian literature trails twenty or thirty years behind American innovations are those who claim that Canadians are actually ahead of the times. Marshall McLuhan used to say that Canada has leapfrogged into the twenty-first century. If so, according to Linda Hutcheon we have landed in the mesh of the post-modern. While American 'surfiction' is really an extreme form of modernism, Canadian 'metafiction' is the genuine article, since writers here have been 'primed for the paradoxes of the postmodern by their history.' In The Canadian Postmodern she gives a survey of the authors, styles, and themes of the current metafictional scene. 

Pico Iyer, in an article in Harper's in June 2002, also placed Canadian fiction on the cutting edge of world literature:

Yet anyone who pays attention to contemporary fiction will see that, on the page at least, Canada is grappling with Act III of a global drama that is elsewhere only in its prologue. 

We are now, in 2005, as many years from 1989, when Hutcheon published The Canadian Postmodern, as she was then from 1973, only a year after Atwood published Survival. And what is the state of the Canadian fiction?

In a word ... confused.

Or perhaps it is merely complicated -- refusing to fall into a simple pattern.

Maybe it's doing just fine, thank you very much. 

In an interview in this publication, Douglas Glover spoke about his disinterest in picking sides in the aesthetic civil war between the avant-garde and the traditionalists:

My argument is mostly against anyone who takes one or the other as being definitive--how sick I am of all those turgid, log- rolling arguments about whether novels should have ethical messages or whether they should be purely aesthetic confections. Most writers strike a balance that somehow suits their particular temperament. Why some feel called upon to climb on soap boxes and campaign for the primacy of their particular brand of novel-writing is beyond me.

Certainly, Canadian literature has its share of experimental writers. Some have even been featured on this website, in interviews or reviews: Sheila Heti, Ken Sparling, Tony Burgess, Douglas Glover, Mark A. Jarman, John Lavery, Paul Glennon, Anne F. Walker, to name some. ... Carrie Snyder (while Bigge didn't find her book "pure quirk," Hair Hat, a short story collection with a recurring character whose hair is shaped into a hat, doesn't comfortably fall into any definition of "realism").

Also for certain is that the current state of Canadian fiction lacks a strong descriptive non-fiction text. The 1970s had Survival, and the 1980s had The Canadian Postmodern, and as inadequate as those books were, they were still touchstones for their eras. The 21st century is a new time for Canadian literature. Who will tell its story? 


Okay, back to the 2005 ReLit Awards long list for short stories: What does it say about the state of the short story in Canada?

First, here's a highly subjective catalogue of the list into three categories: realism, in-between, experimental. The sorting is based on guesswork, since I've only read five of the titles and can claim at least some knowledge about another 10 of the authors. To help with the rest of the sorting, I relied on the blurbs supplied by the publishers or (If anyone thinks I've made a grievous sorting error, please let me know. I'd be happy to be put right [after all these years].) 

So, taken with a grain of salt, here's the results of my sorting. Of the 30 titles on the 2005 ReLit Awards long list for short stories, 17 appear to be generally "realistic" and seven appear to be generally "experimental," with six seeming to me to be too close to call.

In conclusion, "realism" appears to have maintained its dominant position as the leading status quo genre.


  1. I Know You Are But What Am I?, Heather Birrell (Coach House)
  2. Open Country, Fr. Ed Brophy (Flanker)
  3. Eyehill, Kelly Cooper (Goose Lane)
  4. So Beautiful, Ramona Dearing (Porcupine’s Quill)
  5. The Beauty Box, Bonnie Dunlop (Thistledown)
  6. Third and Long, Chris Fisher (Coteau)
  7. Princes in Waiting, Larry Gasper (Coteau)
  8. The Long Slide, James Grainger (ECW)
  9. Core Samples, Patti Grayson (Turnstone Press)
  10. Greetings from the Vodka Sea, Chris Gudgeon (Goose Lane)
  11. Orchestra of the Lost Steps, Shelley A. Leedahl (Thistledown)
  12. Standing Stones, John Metcalf (Thomas Allen)
  13. So This is Love, Gilbert Reid (Key Porter)
  14. Any Day Now, Denise Roig (Signature)
  15. Naked in the Sanctuary, Julie Roorda (Guernica)
  16. Survivors, Chava Rosenfarb (Cormorant)
  17. Prague Memories, Tecia Werbowski (Guernica)


  1. Girl at the Window, Byrna Barclay (Coteau)
  2. Contrary Angel, Mike Barnes (Porcupine’s Quill)
  3. Meet Me in the Parking Lot, Alexandra Leggat (Insomniac)
  4. Seventeen Tomatoes, Jaspreet Singh (Vehicule)
  5. Translating Women, Bill Stenson (Thistledown)
  6. How To Swallow A Pig, Robert Priest (ECW)


  1. Doctor Weep, Gary Barwin (The Mercury Press)
  2. Corner Pieces, Lance Blomgren (Conundrum)
  3. A Short Journey by Car, Liam Durcan (Vehicule)
  4. The Worthwhile Flux, Corey Frost (Conundrum)
  5. Hopeful Monsters, Hiromi Goto (Arsenal Pulp)
  6. You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off, John Lavery (ECW)
  7. Let’s Not Let a Little Thing Like the End of the World Come Between Us, James Marshall (Thistledown)

Based on my tally, then, Darbyshire would appear to have some evidence to support his claim that "the Canadian short story remains mired in realism," though "mired" is really quite a strong verb and -- yes, the word is in from our judges -- out of bounds, "mired" has been ruled out of bounds. Darbyshire is guilty of conflated rhetoric, despite his attempted qualifications: i.e., "There are a few exceptions, such as Gary Barwin's work, but those are very definitely exceptions." Barwin is in the experimental category, but he's backed up by six other writers -- so not quite a "very definite" exception.

Next, remember our neat gender balance: 15 men, 15 women?

In the new alignment, the balance begins to teeter ...

Realism In-Between Experimental
5M 12W 4M 2W 6M 1W
Total=17 Total=6 Total=7

One must acknowledge at this point that all of the critiques of Canadian literature in the bulleted list above were by men. Maybe that's why the dominant area (realism), the dominated by women writers, came under most consistent complaint? (Because men and women tend to have different tastes, that's all I'm saying. ...)

What's the new regional alignment?

  West Ontario Quebec East Total
Realism 5 8 1 3 17
In-Between 2 3 1 0 6
Experimental 2 2 3 0 7
Total 9 13 5 3 30

Interesting! Once again Quebec is confirmed as a distinct society. And these are only books in English! More experimental short story books published in English in Quebec than experimental short story books published in Toronto. (Who would have thunk it?)

Altogether in one chart, the above information would look like this:

  West Ontario Quebec East Total
Realism 2M 3W 3M 5W 1W 2M 1W 17
In-Between 1M 1W 2M 1W 1M 0 6
Experimental 1M 1W 2M 3M 0 7
Total 9 13 5 3 30

Now, before anyone asks why I'm not also analyzing for race or birth order or anything else, I want to reiterate how subjective this list actually is. Also, if anyone has any additional analysis to add, I'd be glad to hear it.

Myself, I'm reluctant to draw many conclusions from these charts. To a certain extent, they confirm the stereotypes about Canadian fiction, but then stereotypes tend to be based on at least a kernel of truth. They also reinforce that verbs like "mired" are over the top -- as is calling for "a national moratorium on short stories and novels about parental emotional neglect and love affairs gone painfully awry" (Robertson); this is hyperbole, not criticism -- and despite the fact that it may play well within certain "in crowds," in the big picture long haul of Canadian literature, it's just silliness and unconstructive.

Changes are afoot in Canadian fiction. We need critics who can rise to the challenge, look beyond the stereotypes, beyond their personal grievances, and -- to paraphrase Douglas Glover -- read the books if they want to read the books.

The ReLit Awards Long List

The links below go to each book's page on, unless otherwise noted. Descriptions below are from the site, again unless otherwise noted. [Links to other content related to the books on TDR included in square brackets.]

Girl at the Window, Byrna Barclay (Coteau)

  • Whether it's a brush with the bizarre genius of Salvador Dali, the appearance of a look-alike relative from far away, or the arrival of family ghosts come to inhabit the shadowy corners of a nearly spent life, the startling, vivid images conjured in this collection of stories defy closure even when the tales are finished. Canadian author Barclay loosely ties these stories together along the theme of memory (

Contrary Angel, Mike Barnes (Porcupine’s Quill)

  • In stories of stark passion and haunting trauma, Contrary Angel finds an acute clarity in those moments when human desires meet the sorcery of the world. The stories are exuberantly diverse in both subject matter and technique, as evidenced by a few of their titles: `Urchipelago', `Karaoke Mon Amour', `Cogagwee', `Do Not Stand Outside the Grande Restaurant.' They take us from the brilliant career of the runner Tom Longboat to the comic machinations of a peeping Tom landlord (

Doctor Weep, Gary Barwin (The Mercury Press)

  • The view is comic and magical. In a suburban landscape where perfect lawns surround the hardwon homes of parents raising everyfamily, all is not as it seems. Heart surgery removes "Thumper" from Walt Disney's chest. A lonely Sigmund Freud action figure begs to be taken home. False teeth, haunted by their former owners, speak with affection to loved ones left behind. An imaginary wall, stolen from a mime, shares Chinese food with its kidnappers. In Doctor Weep, Gary Barwin has rediscovered worlds within our world: lovely, strange, funny, sometimes frightening, and always refreshingly human (publisher's blurb).
  • [TDR review of Doctor Weep]

I Know You Are But What Am I?, Heather Birrell (Coach House)

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. The goofy, hand-drawn image on the front of I know you are but what am I?, Toronto writer Heather Birrell’s much-anticipated first collection of short fiction, suggests that what’s inside is all cartoon. Far from it: humorous, occasionally off-the-wall, the lens through which Birrell views the world is nevertheless piercingly sharp, photographic, even. If you are Canadian and under 40, you may even recognize yourself (
  • [TDR interview with Heather Birrell]

Corner Pieces, Lance Blomgren (Conundrum)

  • Composed as a series of elegies to particular places, both real and imaginary, Corner Pieces traces a cartography of desire and frustration, loss and redemption, set amidst the backdrop of the contemporary urban spectacle. In Blomgren's city, the familiar becomes decidely strange. Street corners, indistinct industrial zones, central business districts and public squares become sites where the ideals and failures of urban planning collide with direct, personal experience (publisher's blurb).

Open Country, Fr. Ed Brophy (Flanker)

  • Features eighteen short stories of loss and triumph, and perseverance of the spirit through adversity. Rich with colloquial flavour and wit, these stories capture profound insights on human strengths and frailties. The lives of woodsmen and fishermen, wives and girlfriends, the holy and the ordinary, and the essence of their small-town ways are here distilled in the newest classic in Newfoundland and Labrador literature (publisher's blurb).

Eyehill, Kelly Cooper (Goose Lane)

  • The people of Eyehill, Saskatchewan, hunger for the usual things: love, understanding, children, a decent living, safety, and comfort. Their passion for something more, something better is tangled, whether they stay or leave, with their attachment to the land and the dangerous allure of the oil industry. In Eyehill, secrets are essential. The need to keep silent and control terrifying emotions is at the same time necessary and ruinous, and the stories people tell hide as much as they reveal (publisher's blurb).

So Beautiful, Ramona Dearing (Porcupine’s Quill)

  • Ramona Dearing's So Beautiful could just as easily have been named Beautiful Losers, had the title not already been taken. The debut collection features an assortment of characters who are all, if not fallen, certainly on their way down. At the fall, however, they are all seeking grace. As a character in one of the stories puts it, they want to feel pure. The book presents a cross-section of Canadian life (
  • [TDR review of So Beautiful]

The Beauty Box, Bonnie Dunlop (Thistledown)

  • Traditional in the way they offer familiar settings, events, and characters, or the way Dunlop’s quiet voice directs our attention; however, they evolve beyond tradition in the controlled, purposeful way that Dunlop’s details are measured. Her appreciation for minutiae whether it be the meticulous attention to dress expressed by a gay bachelor, or the ritual motions of snakes in a well house create indelible moments, and lead the reader into Dunlop’s character’s fortunes (publisher's blurb).

A Short Journey by Car, Liam Durcan (Vehicule)

  • A cast of characters struggling with forces that perplex and threaten to consume them populate this collection of wildly bizarre short stories. From a smuggling operation to bring oversized toilets banned by the EPA into the United States to a depressed taxi driver lost on Vermont's back roads, and from Stalin's dentist to a child with Down's syndrome exploring the wonders of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, these stories come upon people in the midst of strange upheavals. Reacting with humor, anger, and, often enough, grace, Durcan's blissfully deluded medical research subjects, riot cops, and activists are at once dutiful and vengeful. This energetic collage of styles and subject matter is a sometimes scenic, sometimes exhilarating ride through all walks of life (

Third and Long, Chris Fisher (Coteau)

  • Weaves the love of sports -- both playing and spectating -- with the realities of life in small communities (publisher's blurb).

The Worthwhile Flux, Corey Frost (Conundrum)

  • Collects Corey Frost's dynamic performance pieces, including the texts from some of his beautifully designed chapbooks self-published over the last decade as well as some new writing. It includes the surreal pedagogy of "5 minutes with the Communist Manifesto" (the digitally remastered version) and "5 minutes with/without the ground," a story about airplanes and war that proved to be creepily prescient in September 2001 (
  • [TDR interview with Corey Frost]

Princes in Waiting, Larry Gasper (Coteau)

  • A collection of twelve linked, hard-hitting, visceral, at times erotic, stories set in a small farming community near the treeline (publisher's blurb).

The Long Slide, James Grainger (ECW)

  • The stories in this collection are portraits of men adrift—in their own fantasies, failures, and confusing successes. In the title story, a man's desire to bring an honorable end to a love affair is severely tested by the internal and external obstacles presented by a long summer afternoon. "My God, Richard Is Beautiful" follows the drifting, post-coital reflections of a young man who has just slept with his close friend's girlfriend, while "House Cleaning" enacts a comic psychodrama of love, antidepressants, and class warfare (
  • [TDR review of The Long Slide]

Core Samples, Patti Grayson (Turnstone Press)

  • An understated collection of stories about innocence, experience and the road in between set in a fictional Canadian Shield town that serves as home to Grayson’s unusual characters. Patti Grayson’s debut collection of short fiction takes as its subject matter those moments in our lives when everything suddenly feels foreign, when a turn of heart takes us in the blink of an eye to a new place that looks familiar, and is anything but (publisher's blurb).

Hopeful Monsters, Hiromi Goto (Arsenal Pulp)

  • In Hiromi Goto's collection of stories, hopeful monsters are characters trapped between generations and cultures, desperately seeking to evolve, to escape their lives and even themselves. ... The characters' journeys are mirrored in Goto's narrative style. The stories are loose, full of gaps and jarring disjunctions, but at the same time are marked by a poet's attention to language and the ability to find beauty and solace in the strange and unknowable. They end not with resolution or closure, but with the opening of possibilities, of a shift from one life to another, from dream to reality. Hopeful Monsters carries the genetic material of recognizable genres--coming-of-age story, immigrant narrative, feminist text--but it defies categorization. It's a hybrid entity for a hybrid time (

Greetings from the Vodka Sea, Chris Gudgeon (Goose Lane)

  • Greetings from the out-of-kilter world of Chris Gudgeon. In his first book of fiction, the best-selling author of The Naked Truth: The Untold History of Sex in Canada offers postcard glimpses into the quirky private lives of an assortment of rather twisted characters (

You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off, John Lavery (ECW)

Orchestra of the Lost Steps, Shelley A. Leedahl (Thistledown)

  • Imbued with insight, and secured by Leedahl’s composed voice. These are traditional stories that burst with stunning emotional moments; stories that avoid ornament and excessive description or dialogue in order to allow readers a real connection to her characters’ lives. Set widely across Canadian landscapes with travel into Mexico and Venezuela, her characters reveal glimpses of love, marriage, disillusionment, acts of healing and destruction played out on the personal battlegrounds of everyday life. Shelley Leedahl is to the prairies what Lisa Moore is to Atlantic Canada (publisher's blurb).

Meet Me in the Parking Lot, Alexandra Leggat (Insomniac)

  • Told in Leggat's singular prose style which echoes the coolness and ambiguity of Raymond Carver but is ultimately her own, Meet Me in the Parking Lot is about overcoming the raw deals and attempting to obtain the purest things in life (
  • [TDR interview with Alexandra Leggat]

Let’s Not Let a Little Thing Like the End of the World Come Between Us, James Marshall (Thistledown)

  • “James Marshall’s wit is acidic, salvaged by a deep, although shaken, humanism. His stories are charmed with the glow of small-time Canadian losers and dreamers living in a broken, plugged-in world. This is Heinrich Böll for our time, Alice Munro dressed in jeans and leather, pumped up on testosterone and fear, Raymond Carver taken north to drown in the middle of a forest fire, each alcoholic bubble bursting into flame, and, always, the wounded, broken, and oddly heroic Canada of a thousand ironies we all live in but haven’t yet had in a book, and, thankfully, miraculously have in this book now.” — Harold Rhenish

Standing Stones, John Metcalf (Thomas Allen)

  • The collection's stories are hardly new in their subject matter--they generally revolve around alienated men struggling to come to term with their lives. But Metcalf's not interested in re-inventing the short story so much as he is in fine-tuning it. Each selection is marked by his careful attention to style and precision, and readers will sense the labour that went into every line of the book. The book's true strength is its imaginative risks, as Metcalf often takes the stories into the realm of the uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to sexual matters (

How To Swallow A Pig, Robert Priest (ECW)

  • "A truly invigorating combination of rants, raves, and reveries . . . an assured literary intelligence" (

So This is Love, Gilbert Reid (Key Porter)

  • From Paris to Italy to Bosnia to rural Ontario, these nine stories take the reader on a journey of love, sex, violence and the politics of desire. Here, memory and longing serve as a catalyst to truth and identity, and offer respite from a world gone achingly numb. Madly romantic, subtly subversive and utterly accomplished, Gilbert Reid’s collection is about love in all of its forms—sometimes sad, sometimes harsh, sometimes perverse, but always, always beautiful (

Any Day Now, Denise Roig (Signature)

  • In these eighteen stories - grouped by threes in six story cycles - characters confront themselves, their partners, their choices and their lives. The change, when it comes, can be moving, sudden, quiet, and heartbreaking. Stories within the cycles are linked by people, place, or theme: a single woman yearning to adopt a child from Russia; Quebec-born immigrants lost in translation in western Massachusetts; an American woman floundering on a kibbutz in northern Israel between wars; a former priest coming to terms with what he has done and what he has failed to do; a famous American poet dying of AIDS in Venice. All are struggling, all hoping the way will be made clear. Any day now (

Naked in the Sanctuary, Julie Roorda (Guernica)

  • Mingling the oft taboo subjects of sex, death and religion in both youth and old-age, Roorda takes a realistic look at what disturbs us, her characters helping the reader to understand that life could be a whole lot worse. With language that is both raw and real, Roorda provides a glimpse into the agonies that can darken womanhood (The Ultimate Hallucination).

Survivors, Chava Rosenfarb (Cormorant)

  • These are stories of exile. Of life, loss, and love. Chava Rosenfarb takes the Yiddish short story, in the tradition of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and extends it with touches of Philip Roth and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (

Seventeen Tomatoes, Jaspreet Singh (Vehicule)

  • This small collection of stories from a new writer is subtitled "Tales from Kashmir". All the stories are set in that country, which is a disputed territory on the border between India and Pakistan. Singh manages to write stories about soldiers and war that nevertheless retain a beautifully spiritual and poetic edge (

Translating Women, Bill Stenson (Thistledown)

  • When you meet Bill Stenson’s sharply rendered characters, you will see those people whom you know and maybe even catch a glimpse of yourself in the process. What you won’t expect are the highly unpredictable situations that he creates for them, and the diagonal humour Stenson employs to herald his approach to fiction. Life does look different from up in a tree, and the man who lives in the root cellar in his long johns has something to tell you. Maybe you will discover what it is like to be an out-of-control pacifist or determine the psychological value of a good pair of shoes. In Translating Women, Stenson performs on the high wire between short story and tale, manipulating narratives while deftly abstracting them (publisher's blurb).

Prague Memories, Tecia Werbowski (Guernica)

  • These two short stories are about nostalgia, living in the past and a woman who contemplates revenge but chooses 'to sleep with the enemy'. We are presented to Prague and its magic, mysticism, and beauty which haunts her forever (Gazelle Books Service Ltd.).

Michael Bryson is the editor of The Danforth Review.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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ISSN 1494-6114. 


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