canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Pilot Pocket Book, Number Two
edited by Reuben McLaughlin, Lee Sheppard, and Bryan Belanger
Pilot, 2007

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

This book does indeed fit in a pocket which doubles its attraction for the traveler. The stories range widely, from Craig Morrison’s engaging ‘Archeology’, a tale of an eight-year-old’s classic error in swatting his friend and knocking him out, to Kathleen MacFarlane’s crowded ‘LukeLukeLuke’ with its well-built tension and indications of a sexual predator.

Bryan Belanger’s postcard story, ‘Under the Blazing Sun on a Long Cedar Dock’, makes a good comment, well-told, on the generation-gap. It is succinct and clear with an excellent punch-line.

‘Grandpa’s Squirrel’, by Nik Dudukovic, captures attention with clear writing and strong images.

Grandpa was staring at Carlisle with his one good eye. The other one was buried under folds of fallen eyelid, but his good eye blazed with enough vehemence to hypnotize the boy like a cobra might hypnotize a chick. (p.54)

The reader is drawn in to discover more about this strange partnership to which two squirrels, one long-dead and one living, with two other characters, are added. There are possibly too many similies but they are varied and apt:

Carlisle had become accustomed to Grandpa’s resolute crotchetiness and endured him with the patience of a cool Vegas wheeler staring out a craps table and waiting for his break. (p.55)

Carlisle’s patience is one of anticipation of an unknown excitement and that anticipation is drawn out with dialogue and background, but never elaborated on to the point of boredom. Just enough is told to paint the picture and detail the story to it’s conclusion.

In view of the prevalence of cancer in our society a short story on the subject is a given. Hal Niedzviecki’s ‘Feel Better, Baby’, the one in this collection, combines cancer with wife-abuse and homelessness in an unexpected way. There are, however, odd comparisons made: ‘… it’s all shadows and the suggestion of decay. Dora doesn’t mind the apartment so much, though she finds it repulsive and humiliating.’ (p.98) To find it ‘repulsive and humiliating’ is surely to ‘mind’ it very much. The depiction of the sick woman is convincing and sympathetic.

Jack Ludwig’s ‘Einstein’s Apprentice’, has a diffused energy that needs to be harnessed to the story which could be clearer and more succinct. Reuben Mclaughlin’s ‘Hold the dogs’ has excellent dialogue and maintains focus, but could be clearer in the first half. Kathleen Phillips’ ‘My dad’ describes a father through a child’s eyes and ends on a surprisingly wry and wistful note, almost one of envy. Craig Pyette’s ‘Head Over Heels’ works a bike accident and the reaction to it through a failing relationship. Bleak imagery gives an added sense of bitterness to the story.

The few poems in this collection are uncomplicated and comfortable for the light-hearted reader. Rhya Tamasuaskas’ ‘Excerpts from The Legend of Bobbie-May’ leaves a sense of unfinished story, and a desire to know the end.

I can hear the thumping between the walls,
A muffled bass.
I know she is shouting without moving her mouth,
The sound is from the beast inside her chest,
Which is rabid and angry at the universe.


Taylor Graham’s ‘Haystacks’ opens possibilities as in

She walked around the corner of the barn
and was never seen again. And so
she began writing a mystery
in every mind. …


What happened to her? Where did she go? His other three poems also leave the reader wandering in a field of the imagination.

The illustrations in the collection are as varied as the writings. Sarah Cullen’s ‘Maps’ entrance with their sense of distorted place, of being lost in the various cities she traverses. She elucidates a sense of wonder and expectation – that the city maybe as scattered or ethereal as she depicts.

Overall, the Pilot Pocket Book Number Two offers opportunity to escape into other worlds.

Joanna M. Weston

A SUMMER FATHER - poetry - Frontenac House
2006 ISBN: 1-89718105-1 $15.95
THOSE BLUE SHOES for ages 7-12






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