How does a book idea begin? Wanderlust: Stories on the Move started when seven reputable Saskatchewan writers enjoyed a barbeque together. In her introduction, editor Byrna Barclay explains that the idea for this anthology was spawned when Shelley Banks expressed a desire to tour and read with her fellow prose-writing diners at a Regina barbecue. Barclay compiled and edited the work, and though no theme was suggested, she found that “in every story a person embarks on a journey of discovery”. Along with Banks and Barclay, Brenda Niskala, Linda Biasotto, James Trettwer, Kelly-Anne Riess, and Annette Bower share imaginative journeys, and the result’s a literary road trip that takes readers to places near and far, real and imagined.
Niskala transports readers to a Norse trading voyage in 1065 in her exciting novel-in-progress, “Pirates of the Heart,” and Biasotto to favoured Italian locales. Trettwer takes us to a fictitious potash company, and Riess has contributed a moving novel chapter about a twenty-one-year-old who’s never been kissed, and is leaving Saskatchewan for the first time. “Tara had never seen a moose before or a bear, let alone any mountains, except, of course, on TV.” Will Jasper deliver the joy she’s been missing? Will the attractive stranger who’s taken the bus seat beside her?
Each story or novel excerpt possesses its own charms. I give the Menacing Mood Award to Biasotto, for “The Virgin in the Grotto,” with its eerie tone and flirtation with matricide: “The only sound from her mother’s room is the fan dragging the air in one sustained breath”. Niskala wins Best Action-Adventure Award, for her sterling sword-fight scenes. Barclay’s gem is the long story “Jigger,” which melds Saskatchewan history – the Depression, the Regina Riot, a train-riding hobo, and the Weyburn Psychiatric Hospital – and a tender tale about first love: she receives the Most Effective Storytelling Award. I quickly warmed to Trettwer’s downwardly-mobile character, Miller – who drinks himself into oblivion and forgets his daughter’s birthday: Realistic Characterization Of A Contemporary Character Award. Banks easily takes the Local Colour Award, with her excellent descriptions of smalltown Saskatchewan, ie: “We drive past the lot where the hardware store once stood, and the rows of Manitoba maples that shaded the long-demolished school and playground, now covered in thistles.” (Big points, too, for her “rusted advertising sign for a forgotten brand of engine oil”.) Riess’s single contribution, “Bus Ride,” earns the Reader Empathy For A Character Award, and Bower, in her piece about aging women looking out for each other, secures the Dark Humour Award.
Linda Biasotto hosted the barbeque where it all began, and she deserves mention for one of the finest images. In “Flying,” her teen protagonist describes a veranda at a rich friend’s home as “a white barge ready to detach and float across the new lawn”. I love it when a writer helps me to see the ordinary in a brand new way, and when a group of writers brainstorm an idea and it comes – beautifully, deliciously – to fruition.
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