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Exact Fare Only 2

by Ian Cockfield

In a rare instance of form following function in the book world, Exact Fare Only 2 seems designed for the express purpose of being read on the subway, streetcar, or bus. Editor Ian Cockfield has collected 21 short pieces around the relatively loose definition of “commuter literature,” most of them interesting diversions from your long ride home, none of them so engrossing you’ll miss your stop.

To call these pieces stories would be overstating the case. With very few exceptions, Exact Fare Only 2 collects vignettes and anecdotes, the sort of tales that might otherwise be shared casually with friends. The collection suffers from this distanced, observational passivity, the sameness of tone that comes from having 21 first-person narrators recounting their own transit encounters. While there are interesting “characters” here, they’re characters in the sociological, rather than the literary, sense: drunks, the mentally handicapped, the lecherous. If you’ve got a clichéd denizen of public transit in mind, they’re likely represented here.

A few pieces stand out, usually when the storytellers deviate from standard urban encounters. Teresa McWhirter’s “Another One Rides the Bus” nicely captures the surreality of a cross-country American odyssey via a Greyhound bus, while Ariel Gordon’s “Jungle Train: Travels in Malaysia” is evocative and memorable. Elaine Miller’s “Follow That Bus” is a surprisingly powerful account of a bus passenger being pursued by a motorist menacingly offering a ride. A concluding essay by David Suzuki, on the environmental importance of public transit, seems awkwardly grafted on, though it is strong and thought-provoking in its own right.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of the pieces in Exact Fare Only 2. The anecdotes are well told with a good sense of humour and occasional insight, but the volume as a whole ultimately falls flat. While it may be a good alternative to either looking out the window or confronting your fellow commuters, there’s not much here that rewards any closer reading.


Reviewer: Rob Wiersema

Publisher: Anvil Press


Price: $18

Page Count: pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-895636-55-8

Released: Dec.

Issue Date: 2004-2

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Memoir & Biography