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The Journey Prize Anthology 9

by Selected with Nino Ricci

The ninth annual pack of stories, chosen by editors of Canadian literary magazines as the year’s best, does precisely what a Journey Prize Anthology claims to do: it lauds the role journals play in the growth of new writers, and peacocks their strongest work. “Emerging” can be a slow march, and many of these stories come from veteran writers with international publications, accolades, and book deals. Others are first or early successes.

Appraisal of such excellence and nascence is tricky. Six men, six women; three funny, three (count ’em) Holocaust; one all dialect. A few rattle perceptions, some only drift by, but in the case of the drifters, it is craft that isn’t working, not the crafter. Each writer seems about to nail something crucial, be it sharper language, less plot, or contempt for pretension; honour is the next step for a few, our responsibility.

The humour, in particular, is strong. Stories by neophyte Andrew Mullins and quasi-veterans Terry Griggs and Mark Jarman excavate the dry hilarity in both character and situation, and their comic timing does not stutter or stumble. But of the three Holocaust stories, only Dennis Bock’s “Olympia” is routed astutely through stirring imagery. Bock’s narrator says, “I was raised by war babies. Everybody with their story, their dry silence,” explaining, perhaps, the similar themes, the next generation having a crack at the unimaginable. Judith Kalman’s “Not for Me a Crown of Thorns” is a long and lovely tale, it seems, about two young sisters. But when, near the end, the narrator suddenly divulges their fate and says, “The kapo assigned to their block in Auschwitz was crazy,” the cumulative effect is tastelessly comic: Not another one?!

Along with Griggs and Bock, Mark Jarman in “Righteous Speedboat,” and Anne Simpson in “Dreaming Snow” make this anthology remarkable. Simpson and Jarman create and customize language to serve perfectly flawed characters – Jarman’s washed-up hockey player, Simpson’s sad new mother – who are impossible to ignore; tight narrative scaffolding (plot, allusion, setting) testifies to the skill and obsession required for enduring fiction. The anthology closes with these and challenges CanLit to start bragging.


Reviewer: Lorna Jackson

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $16.99

Page Count: 208 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-7710-4425-9

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 1997-10

Categories: Anthologies