In the acknowledgements to her first short-story collection, acclaimed B.C. poet, essayist, and novelist Linda Rogers amusingly notes, “Accustomed to sips and gulps, poems and novels, the challenge of short fiction was like asking a nude bather to wear a girdle.” Her initial hesitation didn’t last. “Now I am addicted,” she says, “to la vita breva.”
It is easy to see why Rogers – whose poetry has won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Hawthorne Poetry Prize, among others – is drawn to the form. Within its limits, her themes of memory, art, ritual, wisdom, sex, aging, and death are allowed to flourish in a space between poetry and long-form prose. Crow Jazz contains 22 fairy tale–like stories – some darker and more difficult to penetrate than others – built with beautiful words and turns of phrase and possessed of a sensual quality in their references to the natural world.
In “One More Story,” a grandmother digging in her garden tells stories to her young granddaughter while contemplating her mortality: “I’m a small woman, slowly shrinking from formidable to adorable, now an apple doll of a person, something to cuddle rather than confront, going for a finite number.” Like other narrators in the collection, she is comforted by her rituals and worried about losing her memory and her words. With age, though, comes a kind of freedom and the recognition that “[t]here is no fixed recipe for life.”
The narrator of “Mud Pies,” one of the strongest stories in the collection, shares a similar realization as she reflects on the connection between the practice of bread making and her art: “I do not read instructions on packages. I do not read recipes. I will not be told how to think. I think that is a good thing.”
Heavier fare includes stories such as “Her Name,” about a woman’s incestuous relationship with her father, and “The Lineup,” a quirky take on identity and political correctness. There is humour here, too, with stories like “Three Strikes,” about a writer anxiously awaiting the return of her book’s copy edit and the ridiculous excuses her editor offers for its five-year delay.
Imbued with a poet’s proclivity for symbolic imagery and wordplay, Roger’s debut short-fiction collection is emotionally affecting, striking, and unusual. Crow Jazz deserves an investment of time, as it reveals its magic only to the unhurried reader. –Dana Hansen