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The Vinyl Cafe Unplugged

by Stuart McLean

There is a curious paradox to broadcaster and writer Stuart McLean: how does someone whose writing is so resolutely (and deliberately) unfashionable become so popular? Or, to put it another way, why are his stories, so heartfelt and eager to please, so pleasing? Is it possible that readers want writers who are also (gasp!) storytellers?

Stuart McLean is a storyteller par excellence. The Vinyl Cafe Unplugged is the latest collection of stories featuring record store owner Dave, his wife Morley, and their family, and it is a delight from start to finish. McLean writes audience-pleasing stories that are not afraid to be corny or over-the-top, to make sharp twists or to resolve into sentimentality.

More significantly, perhaps, McLean creates vivid and compelling characters in the tiniest of spaces, from the British aunt who comes to Canada to attend a Due South fan convention to the Italian neighbour who buries his fig tree so it will survive the winter to Dave and Morley themselves. These are characters and situations that many readers will want to visit over and over, with all the comfort of a houseful of relatives at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

This is not to say that The Vinyl Cafe Unplugged is without its faults. McLean is often guilty of telegraphing his jokes – and they’re not the freshest, or best, jokes at that – and his sentimentality can become cloying. McLean’s success, however, can be traced to his gift for finding human truths in the most hackneyed of situations, and of building genuine connection with his readers through stories that are a pleasure to read.