Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

An Evening with W.O. Mitchell: A Collection of the Author’s Best-loved Performance Pieces

by Barbara & Ormond Mitchell,eds.

An Evening with W.O. Mitchell is a collection of some of the author’s favourite “performance pieces” – Mitchell has been a celebrated reader of his own work for much of his writing career. In fact, as the first piece in this anthology, “The Day I Spoke for Mr. Lincoln,” reveals, Mitchell’s life as an “elocutionist” began somewhat earlier and more inauspiciously in Florida, in 1930, when he was 16. In more recent years, Mitchell has acted out his work on stage with dancing eyebrows and Dickensian relish – part Puck, part madman – he and his audience enjoying themselves immensely.

This book is a mixture of short pieces written for magazines or performance and excerpts from Mitchell’s novels and short stories. There is, as you might expect, a great deal of humour. I laughed out loud when the outhouse containing Melvin’s grandfather ended up six feet in the air after the explosion in “Melvin Arbuckle’s First Course in Shock Therapy.” And again, when the shotgun goes off just as the ambulance and fire engine collide and the goat has its unfortunate accident in “The Napoleon Threat.”

Mitchell has access to a much wider range of human feeling than many humorists, and pieces such as “Aunt Pearl,” “Grandmother MacMurray,” and “King Motherwell” beautifully explore three very different relationships between adults and children, something Mitchell does with great sensitivity. I also particularly like the healing optimism in “Body Language,” an encounter between two scarred people set in a sauna.

The editors have included photographs and introductory notes that attempt to give the flavour of a Mitchell performance. Delightful as these are, they emphasize how much these shorter pieces depend upon the unique magic that Mitchell creates in the auditorium.

Still, this is the work of a brave and wonderful writer. Mitchell has repeatedly tested his work in public, where the success or failure of a piece is immediate and obvious. His success on the page is as assured as his victories onstage.


Reviewer: Hume Baugh

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $29.99

Page Count: 192 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7710-6088-2

Released: June

Issue Date: 1997-6

Categories: Anthologies