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by Art Norris

Succession is another tale of the strains and glories of homecoming, told here through a sequence of linked stories connected to Al, a journeyman musician who, after years of playing bass in Vancouver bar bands, returns to the family farm in Alberta’s Bearspaw country. Rather than focus on the turmoil often occasioned by such impulsive existential upheavals, first-time author Art Norris seems content merely to depict, in prose shorn almost entirely of ornament, what draws Al back to the farm: the simple beauty of the land and its people.

Unfortunately, the expression of said beauty is never as simple as such clichés suggest, and this collection could use some ornament. The writing is too often colourless, static, and deliberately elegiac, the total effect suggesting an old photograph dug up in a regrettable fit of nostalgia. The only discernable thematic concern of Succession is, as the title suggests, the change that inevitably accompanies the passage of time.

In “While the Sun Shines,” Al finds himself behind the wheel of a tractor for the first time in years, mowing hay. Moments after a section of the machine’s sickle mysteriously breaks, Al sees a coyote limping across the field with one of its back legs hanging limply from its hip. The implication here might be that Al ran over the coyote, and that the wounded animal could provide him with an opportunity to reflect on his conflicted relationship with the land and its inhabitants. But such insights, throughout the book, are more implied than elucidated. The coyote appears at the end of the story to howl, presumably in approval, as Al plays a Paul Simon bass riff into the setting sun.

So everything’s hunky-dory, as everything too often is in Norris’s fictional Bearspaw. The stories are almost devoid of conflict; the characters seem infected with a “that’s just the way it goes” mentality that leads to tragedy (or at the very least, revelation) in the best fiction. Here their complacency leads to a stultifying sameness – a poor substitute for hard-won serenity.