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West by Northwest: British Columbia Short Stories

by David Stouck and Myler Wilkinson,eds.

The 31 stories in this collection – all chosen for their ability to sound the province’s sense of place, its physical and social geography, its history as a destination, a haven and a cornucopia – have as little in common as might be expected of a score or more of tales originally published between 1911 and 1996 by writers of First Nations, Chinese, Doukhobour, British, and Indo-Trinidadian backgrounds, by men and women young and old, straight and gay, urban and rural.

Yet between these pages there skitter backwards and forwards uncanny reverberations and recognitions of that thing we might call quintessential B.C. It has no name, this lotus of Lotusland, or perhaps it has many names, each to be found among the details of weather and stink and taste and domination over nature that give this collection of stories their stamp of “Made in B.C.”

This anthology’s foundation of grey-black clay, as well as the dark root cellar beneath, dominates thematically. There is chalky fear (we are called the “Pacific rim of fire” in Jack Hodgins’s “Earthquake”) and bitter apathy in Patrick Lane’s “Mill-Cry”: “The snow will stop when it stops. They are used to this, snow or rain, or the slowness of the sun. Half their day is spent in shadow.” There is sea tang, too, in Ethel Wilson’s “Down at English Bay” and its acid recollection of black swimming teacher Joe Fortes’s brown body “among all the little white lawyers and doctors and trained nurses and seamstresses who jumped up and down and splashed round him.” In Audrey Thomas’s “Kill Day on the Government Wharf” a cod’s heart beats on a dock “viscous and treacherous with blood and the remains of fish gut.” Within the brine the corruption of infidelity, indifference, and impotence lurk. “The tide is low and there’s a strong rotting smell from the beach,” Eden Robinson writes in “Queen of the North.”

There is brightness too, as in Emily Carr’s “Silence and Pioneers”: “I was glad Father and Mother had come as far west as the West went before they stopped and settled down.” And, okay, there’s some Toronto-bashing, as in Rebecca Raglon’s “The Gridlock Mechanism,” where Hogtown is “the dark heart of winter the sullenness of the spreading city, full of angry dreams and hard edges.” Hey, sometimes it’s as much what you’re not that defines you.


Reviewer: John Burns

Publisher: Polestar Press


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-896095-41-0

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 1998-3

Categories: Anthologies