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Writing Home: A Pen Canada Anthology

by Constance Rooke, ed.

Just “home,” please, whatever that conjures up, Constance Rooke said. Her 40 contributors took the direction seriously. Cuteness, on the “Home Is…” model, doesn’t come in to it. Reminiscences of warm radiators and laps, yes, but also loss, anger, bafflement. Luminaries and local heroes, all have been extraordinarily generous, not only with their time and gifts but their hearts. They make Writing Home a highly desirable bedside companion to the 1994 anthology Writing Away. That first volume has already earned more than $150,000 for PEN Canada; proceeds from this book will also go to support free speech and writers in prison around the world. Once again it’s superbly edited by Constance Rooke, writer, critic, and academic at the University of Guelph.

The approaches in these never-before-published pieces are all over the map, from formal personal essays to poems to lucky dips. While weighted demographically towards the centre of the country, from the perspective of writers writing in English, they go coast to coast: Jane Rule in British Columbia, John Steffler in Newfoundland, mountains, rivers, prairie towns between. And beyond – home may be rooted in the United States (Linda Spalding), Sri Lanka (Michael Ondaatje), Hong Kong (Adrienne Clarkson). Its essence may be in the tension between Moloka’i and Yonge Street, or between George Grant and Northrop Frye. For a significant proportion, our true “Ur-Canadian home” is a cottage or cabin in the woods.

For some, Quebec separation raises the spectre of exile. For Leon Rooke’s neighbour, “Joe,” home means a bell on the back wall rung as a general alarum when his drunken, violent father launched a nocturnal attack. The collection does not forget those shut out and alienated from sustaining spaces: the young woman squatting on the sidewalk by her hearth of burning joss sticks, the vulnerable under attack by government intent on making Canada a “stranger’s house.” (Rohinton Mistry tells a cautionary tale of a Golfer King downsizing citizens surgically.)

From Atwood to Zwicky, Writing Home offers a strong sense of engagement, on many levels, with things that matter. And the pieces are all so interesting – not a clunker in the bunch.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $19.99

Page Count: 356 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-7710-6961-8

Released: June

Issue Date: 1997-6

Categories: Anthologies