A Book of Great Worth
Coteau Books / 3 October 2012

A Book of Great Worth by Dave Margoshes Published by Coteau Books Review by Michelle Shaw $18.95 ISBN 9 781550 504767 On the surface, award-winning Saskatchewan-based author Dave Margoshes’s latest offering is a beautifully written collection of biographical stories about his father’s life. Except that the stories are fiction. Although based, says Margoshes, on “a seed of truth” and imbued with “the persona and personality of [my] father”, they are all fiction. The result is a selection of carefully crafted tales, written over a number of years, which relate various incidents in his father’s life. Margoshes says he “worked hard, with the stories’ structure and a sort of old-fashioned expository style, to make them feel like memoir — like truth…[he] also worked hard to imbue these stories with a tension created by that unstated question of how the narrator came to know not just the stories, in their broad strokes, but the fine details.” He succeeded. At first I was consciously trying to work out what was true but I soon found myself enveloped in the stories. Most of the book is set in New York City in the early decades of the twentieth century. Margoshes crafts an almost sensory…

The Maladjusted
Thistledown Press / 26 June 2012

The Maladjusted by Derek Hayes Published by Thistledown Press Review by Gail Jansen $18.95 ISBN: 978-1-897235-90-4 For those that tend to a more sunny disposition, The Maladjusted by Derek Hayes might be a journey on a road seldom trod, but it’s a road well worth travelling. Hayes has written a collection of short stories that lets you look at life from a new perspective, and allows you to identify with characters that often live on the fringe of what we would consider a “normal” existence. Hayes puts us in touch with that voice inside that speaks incessantly as we go about our daily lives by introducing us to characters who, as much as they differ from us on the outside, echo many of our own thoughts and beliefs on the inside. This creates a connection that allows us to view those “maladjusted” members of our society in a whole new light. From the grimy back alleys behind the apartment of the “mentally ill” Mike, who finds solace and perhaps a life in the game of Chess, to the dignity we can so plainly see in Melanie as she struggles to find her own level of normal, Hayes characters are people…

Leaving Berlin
Thistledown Press / 2 March 2012

Leaving Berlin by Britt Holmström Published by Thistledown Press Review by Sandy Bonny $ 18.95 ISBN-13 987-1-897235-91-1 I recently crossed Saskatoon driving behind a battered Honda Civic with the bumper sticker: ‘Change is inevitable – growth is optional.’ This might well be the motto underlying Britt Holmström’s first collection of short fiction. In Leaving Berlin this experienced Regina-based novelist tapers her prose to focus on female characters thrust, often unexpectedly, into moments of revelation. These women, of all ages and origins, struggle with the assumptions and constraints that structure their lives. Complicated relationships unravel, personalities collide, and as time and memory turn back on themselves, yearnings, hopes, and reality itself, beg to be reframed. Rendered in candid, conversational prose, sharp physical descriptions position the reader as confidante to Holmström’s characters, and they certainly do confide In “ The Company She Kept” a group of divorced medical-office mates startle themselves out of a comfortable friendship by first obsessing over, then energetically attacking the transparent lies of a newly hired temp. She is young, beautiful, and clearly unstable, but they find themselves driven to best her, delighting in her weaknesses as they swirl into self-improvement. Their circle is scattered, ultimately, by shame…

Nothing Sacred
Thistledown Press / 29 February 2012

Nothing Sacred by Lori Hahnel Published by Thistledown Press Review by Andréa Ledding $16.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-63-8 Lori Hahnel’s collection of 21 short stories, including the title piece “Nothing Sacred”, skillfully navigates through a working woman, city-gritty, dust devil tour of life rooted in the Canadian prairies and western foothills. Hahnel populates the pages with believable and provocative characters and situations with a strong sense of place, grounded solidly in the exceptional everyday. She questions and probes societal norms, values, and conventions with perception, humour, and sensitivity. Her language is direct and simple; she is a master at the art of “showing, not telling”. The alternating perspectives of mother and daughter in “The Least She Could Do” demonstrate this knack, or the complex depths of loss in the simple statement of a character in “Blue Lake”: “The body must have a memory of its own. I remember things about you I didn’t know I’d forgotten.” Her cast of dozens, almost exclusively female leads speaking in the first person, act as both personal tour guide and societal magnifying glass: examining relationships, roles, and institutions. Each story is an encounter where connections are made, secrets are shared, and insights sparkle out in an…

Walking Through Shadows
Thistledown Press / 8 February 2012

Walking Through Shadows—stories from the edge of the world by Tara Manuel Published by Thistledown Press Review by Sandy Bonny $ 16.95 ISBN-13: 978-1897235867 There was a time when, in a small town there was no such thing as privacy. People lived side by side, knew one another’s business, and mostly kept one another’s secrets. In her second collection of short stories from Thistledown Press, maritime actor and author Tara Manuel imports modern entertainment culture to a rural world peopled by characters both familiar and fascinatingly unique. There are The Committee Lady, The Housewife, and the local politician, The White Prince—but behind closed doors, television and Internet open windows to apparent anonymity, and outside closed doors, the town’s residents run freed of their usual audience. The mute Butterfly Girl finds a lover and a voice, but her bravery is neither seen nor heard. Few notice The Arab, raised in the town’s theatre and living now, in ironic permanence, in the shell of an abandoned bus. Walking Woman, who prizes solitary evening adventures, struggles against an imported culture of fear and finds solace only in the binding security of her husband’s arms. The gruff divorcee, Shadow Dancer, waltzes in the privacy…

In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba
Thistledown Press / 19 October 2011

In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba by Amanda Hale Published by Thistledown Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $18.95 CAD 987-1-897235-87-4 Amanda Hale’s 2011 book of short stories, In the Embrace of the Alligator: Fictions from Cuba, is a gripping celebration of mystery unraveled using beautiful language. Hale launches in with a story called “First Steps, Last Steps;” immediately gripping, beginning in the middle. The subject of the story is introduced: “His legs were twisted, as though they’d been torqued and broken, his feet wrapped in burlap with cardboard soles and twine to hold them firm. I’d done the left one, Leila the right, our hands twisting and binding.” I wondered if I was about to read a story about kidnapping, abuse? Is “he” a child, an adult, an animal? I didn’t know, but I was getting to the end of the story to find out. In the story “Witness,” I was astounded by Hale’s ability to achieve pathos. She describes a long wait, on a hot day: “She took the pen from him and patted his arm, then she signed, wanting only to get out of there and cross the street to her own home, to eat…

Practice of Perfection
Coteau Books / 28 April 2010

The Practice of Perfection by Mary Frances Coady Coteau Books Reviewed by Gail Jansen $18.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-400-2 Perfection is an attribute few of us try to attain, but in the inner sanctum of a convent, it is above all else, something that is strived for. But who are these women whose aim is perfection? And how does the transformation from ordinary girl to reverent nun take place? These are the compelling mysteries regarding religious life as it was back in 1959 that Mary Frances Coady looks to unravel in her first book of short fiction, The Practice of Perfection. A collection of integrated stories told from separate points of view, each story looks deeply into the hearts and minds of young novice nuns, following them as they go about their day’s observances. A stylistic technique employed by Coady allows readers to truly see the struggle, doubt and perseverance each novice experiences from the inside out. She shows us through her writing that even as they aim for God’s perfection, beneath their habits lie the ordinary human failings that exist in us all. Evoking the stark and simple lifestyle of those cloistered with unembellished words and repeated images, Coady bestows an…

Tuckahoe Slidebottle
Thistledown Press / 2 September 2009

Tuckahoe Slidebottle by Neil McKinnon Published by Thistledown Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-07-02 “The town itself is homeless. It lies on the prairie like a drunk on a sidewalk.” The town is Tuckahoe, a fictional SK community invented by gifted writer Neil McKinnon, and on the strength of these first two sentences, I knew I was going to enjoy his short fiction collection Tuckahoe Slidebottle. McKinnon renders a cast of characters simultaneously outrageous and credible; if Tuckahoe were on a map, readers would be flocking there. I can’t help thinking that the writer wore a smile while penning most of these twenty stories. First, let’s look at the town itself. Tuckahoe’s a place where “Dried potholes slam your teeth as you drive.” There’s the inevitable coffee row, called “The Jury” (“five or six tobacco chewers and sunflower-seed-spitters who met every day to pass judgement on the private lives of others”). And there are wild characters like one-eyed Old Alex, who took off his black eye patch Saturdays and “used a silver dollar to cover the hole where his left eye was supposed to be,” because he believed in dressing up on Saturday nights. Reverend Davies is…

The Cult of Quick Repair
Coteau Books / 22 July 2009

The Cult of Quick Repair by Dede Crane Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $18.95 ISBN 9-781550-503920 There’s a marvelous short story in Victoria, BC writer Dede Crane’s collection, The Cult of Quick Repair, about the bizarre circumstances that follow after a man’s one night-stand – the “act” is committed in his marriage bed – with a woman met at a staff party. Called “Raising Blood,” the tale begins with the man’s realization that a menstrual blood stain has been left on the $500 “pure Egyptian cotton” sheets his wife’s just purchased, and when he rinses them in hot water instead of cold, the stain, naturally, sets. The wife will be returning within hours from a business trip, and the race to erase the evidence is on. In the delicious romp that follows, the husband attempts to “raise his own blood” to explain the stain. One thing he tries is “a good hard trip up the stairs.” Crane writes: He “knelt down on the cement landing, and began to draw his knee back and forth. Scrape, scrape, scrape, he thought positively …” But this doesn’t work. An electric knife handily does the trick, but lands him in…

The Well and Other Stories
Thistledown Press / 4 February 2009

When reading radiant, dialogue-rich stories like the title story, I felt I was at the table sharing a bottle of wine with the French and English couples in the 400 year old village of Cipières, France. What a gift to be able to travel like this. What I did not expect was the dramatic plot shifts. I often finished a story and could only marvel at the directions in which the plot turned.