INTRODUCTION: DOUBLE-VOICING THE CANADIAN SHORT STORY
1. Hands and Mirrors: Reflections on Gender in the Short Stories of MacLeod and Findley
2. Mothering Sons: Stories by Findley, Hodgins, and MacLeod Uncover the Mother’s Double Voice
3. Storykeepers: Doubling Family Voice in Stories by King, Senior, MacLeod, and Vanderhaeghe
4. Pinking the Triangle, Drawing the Circle: Double-Voicing Family in Findley’s Short Fiction
5. Various Otherness: Shields, King, Hodgins, and Birdsell Double-Voice the Short Story
6. Innovation and Reflection in the New Millennium: The Double Voice in Shields’s Short Fiction
7. Double-Voicing through the Mariposan Looking Glass
L’Envoi: The Bus to North Bay
I would like to begin by acknowledging the academic and institutional support given to me as this book evolved over the years: the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Nipissing University for Internal Research Grants and a Research Outcomes Grant, and for the approval of two sabbatical leaves which allowed me to pursue my research. Finally, Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, sponsored by SSHRC, for essential publishing support.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to my colleagues in Nipissing’s English Studies Program who offered feedback and constructive criticism on significant parts of this book: the “Works in Progress” group, and in particular, Professors Sarah Winters, Gyllian Phillips, and Peter Clandfield for their additional feedback, interest, and support. Colleagues at our “big sister” institution, Laurentian University, also offered a friendly forum for my research. My research assistants, Jenna Demers and Meghan McLaren, were unfailingly helpful, cheerful, and engaged by the project. Faculty and Administrative Support Services and Print Plus provided prompt and expert secretarial and printing assistance. Thanks are also due to the Dean of Arts and Science, Dr. Murat Tuncali, and to Jan Ross and the Research Office. I acknowledge the important contributions of the anonymous reviewers obtained by Ottawa University Press. Lastly, I would like to extend my warm thanks to the “word women” of Ottawa University Press, Dominike Thomas and Elizabeth Schwaiger, who welcomed the book into their publishing program, and freelance editor (and poet) Helen Guri, who skilfully polished my prose.
Finally, as these chapters will show, my interest in feminism, gender, and maternal scholarship is grounded in growthful experience of a vibrant family life: love and appreciation, as always, to my husband Ian; my daughters Elena and Bobbie-Ann, and my parents Mark and Betty Kruk, for all their support, interest, patience, and encouragement over the years.
Some of these chapters have evolved from work that has been published previously in academic journals and/or conference proceedings. I reuse some of this material with kind permission of the following: Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture and Social Justice (www.msvu.ca/atlantis); Contemporary Women’s Writing; University of Ottawa Press for Dominant Impressions: Essays on the Canadian Short Story, edited by Gerald Lynch and Angela Arnold Robbeson (1999); Canadian Literature; and the Journal of the Short Story in English.
Double-Voicing the Canadian Short Story
took turns using my eyes.
—Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie
From its beginnings, Canadian literature may be characterized as speaking in “two voices.” Divided in multiple ways, our national body of writing is attracted to conflicts and tensions experienced, as Atwood suggested over forty years ago, in terms of “violent dualities” encompassing, but not limited to, the binaries young/old, regional/international, British/American, French/English, urban/rural, north/south. Given these long-standing contradictory identities, the short story is (English) Canada’s particularly apt literary reflection, being itself described as old and young, marginal and popular, modernist and postmodernist, shorter and longer.1 Gerald Lynch, an eminent Canadian critic of the form, has made the case for its newness.2 In The One and the Many, he notes, “The short story is the youngest of the canonic genres, beginning only about the middle of the nineteenth century” (3). In 2009, W. H. New addressed the Canadian short story, making the case for not just its survival, but its triumph, despite the challenges of marketing in this new century, declaring,
In the first decade of the twenty-first century approximately fifty collections were appearing every year. While markets for the genre remained fragile, short fiction nevertheless became more visible and more varied, with publishers seeking further ways to attract commercial attention and new writers keen to address readers in a different manner and voice. (“The Short Story” 381)3
It is just this interest in a “different … voice” that inspires my own contribution to the study of the contemporary Canadian short story, with its ability to express or reflect multiple selves and so draw in—another paradox—not just a national but a growing international readership.4
This book focuses on the contemporary short story in English, located within late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Canada, and its distinctive “double-voicing.” I bring together the short fiction of eight writers whose texts have attracted both critical and popular acclaim within and outside Canada, shaping our national canon, but whose stories have often been ignored in favour of their larger works, especially novels. A generational and literary cohort, rather than a movement or a school, they are: Sandra Birdsell, Timothy Findley, Jack Hodgins, Thomas King, Alistair MacLeod, Olive Senior, Carol Shields, and Guy Vanderhaeghe. Encompassing a range of regional affiliations—from West to East, margin to centre—and clearly illustrating New’s point about addressing readers “in a different manner and voice,” these authors have made an undeniable contribution to contemporary Canadian literature and the short story. My interest in these eight Canadian short story writers, thus, is not about a shared theme at all, but rather in a thematic and technical approach toward writing short fiction that speaks from a particularly Canadian perspective: the double voice. While I explore this perspective in a both a nationalist and contemporary framework, it is neither new to me nor to Canadian literature. The ability to speak in a double voice is intrinsic to expression within a subordinate culture, whether such subordination is due to gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, or any other position. The double voice has a long history in feminist criticism, going back to Elaine Showalter’s “ovarian” essay, “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness,” first published over thirty years ago. In it, Showalter draws on cultural anthropology to posit “a cultural model of women’s writing,” leading her to conclude that “women’s fiction can be read as a double-voiced discourse, containing a ‘dominant’ and a ‘muted’ story, which Gilbert and Gubar call a ‘palimpsest’” (204). And at the beginning of the twentieth century, the fight for civil rights in America was articulated in terms of “double consciousness” by influential writer and activist, W. E. B. DuBois, in The Souls of Black Folk.5 To the extent that Canadians may be viewed as “subordinate” in culture, to differing degrees, we too may participate in this twentieth-century trend towards an articulation of divided selves engaging strategically and subversively with that very discovery.
By offering attentive comparative readings of their stories, I demonstrate the ways in which these eight authors create double-voiced discourse by means of theme, technique, literary mode, and linguistic or discursive dialogizing, or the juxtaposition of words, or types of speech, that embody conflicting contexts. By doing so, they figuratively cross borders, just as Canadian literature has always done, to powerfully probe personal, cultural, and national identities. For example, King’s thematizing of pan-Native cultural otherness, within Canadian literature, fractures monological or “single-voiced” discourse by fusing conflicting speech effects associated with orality and literacy cultures. Senior’s recuperation of what is now politically reframed as “nation language” in the form of “patwa” or “Creole” within her well-crafted stories poses a similar challenge to dominant Englishness, but from the location of Jamaica, another former British colony. MacLeod’s incorporation of Gaelic, the trace of the Celtic seanachie, within his fiction also undermines the assimilation tacitly expected of new immigrants to this country, pre-multiculturalism policy. Finally, Birdsell’s inclusion of the voices of Mennonites escaping persecution in Europe, and Metis—the product of unauthorized “country marriages”—facing it in Canada, also works to unsettle the complacency of the perceived centre. This is just one way in which the writers use presumably subordinate identities to challenge received truth by means of “double-voicing.”
Neither programmatic nor reductive, my approach offers a thoughtful juxtaposition of different stories on themes of gender, mothers and sons, family storytelling, marriage, sexuality, and (the politics of) identity in order to show their distinctive “double-voicing” of these formative issues and relationships. Attention to the thematics of focalization, bringing together voice and vision, provokes readings inspired by feminist criticism, masculinity and gender studies, queer theory, and postcolonial studies, while raising questions about various otherness of region, ethnicity, and class consciousness. To give just one example, the “hybrid construction” of mixed communication modes or dramatized speech is clearly relevant to postcolonial critiques of dominant discourses found, to different degrees—and in different ways—in the stories of King, Senior, MacLeod, and Birdsell, as explained above. However, I join these four different writers not to homogenize their differences, but to suggest strategic alliances across their distinct dialogizing of language.
Perhaps it is the very fact of “Canada’s dubious ontological status” that has encouraged such strategic alliances—or links—not just with other writers, but with other literatures of the postcolonial world, giving Canada a newly international presence, as Magdalene Redekop suggests (274).6 I am reminded of Robert Kroetsch’s canny understanding of Canadian identity, where he sees a virtue in “working with a low level of self-definition and national definition. We insist on staying multiple.” Kroetsch goes on to declare, in another insightful paradox, “This disunity is our unity” (66, 68). In fact, the twenty-first century has brought us to a time when, more than ever, individual voices clamour to be heard, and the short story—whether experienced digitally in websites, blogs, e-journals; read in traditional print versions, books, anthologies; listened to or shared at public readings—embodies diverse perspectives more powerfully and immediately than any other narrative form, including the novel. Claire Wilkshire has argued that “While the interplay of voices in a novel may generate many subtle effects, the short story allows voice a prominence it rarely achieves in the novel, where plot drives the narrative forward” (892–93). Voice is highlighted, whether that be the voice of the narrator, characters, or implied author, all combining to make up what I call the “voice of the story.” Alice Munro’s elevation to the ranks of Nobel Laureates in Literature in 2013 is clear evidence that stories speak to us in ways that transcend cultural borders. That is why I took for the title of my collection of conversations with ten Canadian writers of short stories, including six members of my cohort, Jack Hodgins’s insistence that “The voice is the story” (Kruk, Voice 156).
I would further argue that it is in the short story that double-voiced discourse is most powerfully and persuasively experienced. To “double-voice” is, as New suggests, to “walk the border” by drawing, erasing, and then as readily redrawing boundary lines within singular identities or subjectivities to reveal their “violent dualities” while raising questions about “the difference between appearance and belief” (Borderlands 45). Although the eight authors create this conversation in many diverse ways, all begin with the story’s voice. Thus, the first defining borderline is formalist, addressing the thematics of focalization by asking who voices the story, and why? As MacLeod reflects, “The question I ask myself is, ‘Who gets to tell the story?’ Because that changes everything” (Kruk, Voice 168). Narratologists like Mieke Bal, Seymour Chatman, Gérard Genette, and Tzvetan Todorov have been credited with drawing attention to the way the “grammar” of narrative is created by emphasizing point of view, or in Bal and Genette’s refined usage, “focalization.”7 As Bal defines it, “Focalization is the relationship between the ‘vision,’ the agent that sees, and that which is seen” (146). Insisting on a distinction between “those who see and those who speak” (143), Bal explains that focalization may be “internal” and “character-bound” or “external” and relayed through a narrator (148–49), with variations in between being both possible and observable. Because who sees, or focalizes, undeniably shapes, or makes, the story—as MacLeod’s comment reveals—it becomes impossible to avoid considering the thematizing created by narrative vision, which contributes to the “voice of the story.” Hence I draw on the trope of narratological vision as well. Inspired by Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism, which insists that every literary work contains multiple perspectives, I wish to extend it, by considering the formal, technical construction of the voices of character-focalizer, narrator-focalizer, and implied author,8 which together make up what I call “story voice.” For as my usage of practitioner comments like MacLeod’s makes clear, I consider the link between biographical and implied author to be very real, and my employment of author interviews throughout this book as parallel, personal stories of voice is consistent with this concept of author/ity. “Double-voicing” is present in the literary interview as well as in fiction: in dialogue with the interviewer, the authors also create multiple voices for analysis—personal-biographical, rhetorical, and performative, for a start—filtered, of course, through the narrating and critical voice of the interviewer. As author of the published text, the interviewer has the final word, creating a complex “double-voicing” where story-author meets interview-author in an echo-chamber of multiple reverberations.9 And by frequently putting the personal writer being interviewed in dialogue with the overall “story voice,” I am drawing attention once more to the doubleness of reading and writing short fiction. For in both cases, it is an activity in which positions of agency and constructedness, or self-direction versus cultural compliance, frequently alternate. Indeed, I acknowledge that my overall theory of “double-voicing” may gesture towards the reality of polyphony,10 Bakhtin’s elaboration of the inherent dialogism of fiction into (multiple) dialogues within dialogues. Yet in short story practice, I see a foregrounding of two strikingly juxtaposed perspectives or positions which results in the dramatized experience of “double-voiced discourse.”
Voice in literature may formalistically be defined as “the verbal characteristics of the narrator, the one who speaks” (Frye et al 482), but always trailing a complicating tie, according to Bakhtin, to the “speaking consciousness” with “a will or desire behind it, its own timbre and overtones” (Dialogic Imagination 434). I take this “consciousness” to refer to the biographical and/or implied author contributing to the story’s “voice,” which is “equivalent in imaginative literature to Aristotle’s ‘ethos’ in a speech of persuasive rhetoric … [suggesting] also the traditional rhetorician’s concerns with the importance of the physical voice in an oration” (Abrams 287). The voice of the story—not solely the product of the author (biographical or implied), character, or narrator, but some combination of all three—determines its own telling, and its own shortness in narrated time or duration, page, or word count. This organic conception of the literary short story privileges writerly autonomy and imagination over critical prescription, while retaining the meaning of “shortness” in terms of publication history or presentation mode, readerly reception or experience, even if we have long departed from Poe’s insistence on the “single sitting” criterion for short stories. The formal imitation of the storyteller within fiction is another way in which these stories suggestively erase the boundary between spoken and written modes, as well as between biographical and implied author, thereby “double-voicing.” In Olive Senior’s view, invoking the spoken voice within fiction is crucial to her writerly mission: “What I do as a writer is … mediate the worlds I have inherited. While writing is a private act, orality is a communal one; it implies a teller and a listener” (The Story 49). In Discourse in the Novel, Bakhtin declares,
Behind the narrator’s story we read a second story, the author’s story … We acutely sense two levels at each moment in the story; one, the level of the narrator, a belief system filled with his objects, meanings and emotional expressions, and the other, the level of the author, who speaks (albeit in a refracted way) by means of this story. (314, emphasis added)
With this revealing comment, I read Bakhtin’s agreement that focalizer, narrator, and (implied) author come together to form a larger, more complex “story voice”—potentially extending to include the voice of reader (or listener), real or implied, as Senior suggests. There is thus an ideological as well as ethical dimension to narrative voice—operating both internally and externally—which makes it already double, or, in Bakhtin’s terms “dialogized,” I acknowledge, but this is a feature of which these Canadian authors create even greater literary capital.
Drawing on narratological and formalist theory, including an interpretation of Bakhtin’s discussion of the “dialogical” nature of fiction, I will examine the four main ways in which this “double-voicing” manifests itself in the various authors’ stories. In the broadest sense, I see it operating on the level of theme, in raising questions about dominant values and discourses of contemporary Canadian society. This opens up the technical question of who speaks—how the vision is conveyed by the voice of the story—which I term thematics of focalization. This choice shapes the literary mode, or style, of the story, including the “double-voicing” created through irony,11 satire, or parody. Finally, at the discursive or linguistic level, double-voicing appears in terms of the border-crossing dialogizing of language itself. Depending upon the writer’s “ethos,” this dialogizing may be found, for instance, in narrated or dramatized incorporations of a storyteller voice (especially King, Senior, MacLeod), economic class markers (especially Findley, Birdsell, Vanderhaeghe, Hodgins), linguistic code-switching (specially Senior, Birdsell), or playful moments of polyphony (Shields).
So while beginning with formalist questions, my readings lead to socially and politically informed interpretations. I support Bakhtin’s insistence on bringing together the formal and the ideological since “form and content in discourse are one, once we understand that verbal discourse is a social phenomenon” (257). And while Bakhtin’s observations were largely focused on what he called “novelization,” or the increasing dominance of that form, his interest in this dialogizing of literary discourse through narration, including focalization, applies well to the contemporary (English) Canadian short story, with its unique ability to “walk the border.” In “Discourse in the Novel,” one of the essays in The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin includes the short story in his study of “the concrete problems of artistic craftsmanship in prose” (260).12 And while the creation of irony and parody are, I agree, strategies used by the authors as one form of “double-voicing,”13 there are other, more subtly oppositional and resistant approaches possible in short fiction, depending upon the combination of voice and vision. That is why I am emphasizing attention to the thematics of focalization, which dramatizes, embodies, and voices otherness in a range of identifications. In Hodgins’s introspective reflection, “Until I can find the voice that’s going to tell this story, whoever that person is, whichever part of me that is, I can’t tell it” (Kruk, Voice 157). The achievement of persuasive, powerful, and “real” voices in short fiction, by all eight authors, initiates the reader into a larger, more complex vision … one that might even inspire “double-listening.”
I think it’s sort of an intense moment, and I don’t know if I would compare it to the lyric poem, but [the short story] allows you to write a letter to the world.—Alistair MacLeod, in Kruk, The Voice Is the Story
So far, I have argued for the importance of the Canadian short story through a fortuitous convergence of time and place. I can make a similar case for the eight writers I have brought together here, in full recognition of their individuality, by suggesting further intersections. First, all eight have been recognized by critics, scholars, editors, writers, and readers as making essential contributions to the short story in Canada. In 2004, The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature included six of them in its chapter “Short Fiction” (omitting Findley, better known for his novels, and Jamaican/Canadian Senior). Five years later, these omissions were corrected, and all of them cited in the chapter “The Short Story” in The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature. All were born in the first half of the twentieth century (1930–1951), and have achieved elder status for writing and publishing acclaimed short fiction since the postcentenary period, the 1990s, and well into this century. Their work has been recognized nationally with our most prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for (English-Language) Fiction—eight winning titles—as well as internationally, with nods of approval—nominations or wins—from the Man Booker Prize, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and others.14 And all of them have written at least two—and some, three or four—volumes of short stories, to date, making their cumulative contribution to the form a respectable twenty-four books. So much for their stats.
Second, if my initial “frame” for the eight authors is nationalist-chronological, I can easily shift to aesthetic-formal: although their short stories range widely in subject matter, tone, style (as will be amply demonstrated in what follows), all may be said to rely on a realist foundation for their writing, realism being that mode which Redekop claims has been consistently interrogated but rarely entirely rejected by Canadian writers (272).15 As Findley declared, with a theatrical flourish, we are speaking here of writing that puts “an anchor in the real heart, the real spirit and the real turmoil of real life” (Kruk, Voice 93). However, he also went on to insist, “I want edge” (93). Some of their “edgy” experiments in fiction, including short fiction, may be dubbed “magic realism”—as in Hodgins or Birdsell—or postmodernist16 self-reflexivity—as in Shields—or the Gothic—as in Findley—but all eight build these effects upon a representational base, composed of lifelike characters, for the most part, who voice themselves compellingly on the page. King’s fabular “Coyote stories,” for instance, may be seen as “interfusional” meetings of European and Native cultures—a real conflict in Canadian history—and always at the satiric expense of the former.17 At the same time, supposed traditionalist Alistair MacLeod often stages an uncanny meeting between myth or folklore and the quotidian, as critics have noted, so that in his well-crafted fiction, “the ‘voice’ of the oral tradition is never far away and in some cases is as close as the opening sentences of a story” (Urquhart 37).
The third and final “frame” is really what inspires my comparative readings of their stories: whatever their differences in points of origin or politics of location, these eight authors have created short fiction that “double-voices,” each in their own way—culturally, linguistically, stylistically, philosophically, psychologically—according to his or her most obvious strengths or strategies. Certainly, they “double-voice” in different areas and on different issues. In his overview of “Fiction” for University of Toronto Quarterly on the turn of the millennium, Neil Besner was struck by the number of short story collections he had to review—almost half the books submitted—and concluded that “short fiction has always been more open to variation and experiment in mode, voice and style than has the novel” (175). Besner’s association between the short story and experiment is strongly borne out by these eight authors. For instance, Shields’s Various Miracles (1985), her acclaimed book of “experiments,” signalled a dramatic departure from her earlier, more conventionally realist novels, before the stylistic breakthrough two years later with Swann (1987). As I have noted elsewhere, this “caused people to label [her] a postmodernist” (Kruk, Voice 192). Various Miracles first emphasized Shields’s own philosophical “double-voicing” on the self as both grounded in a feminist domestic and reconstructed in social discourse. Like other Canadian writers of her generation including Atwood and Munro,18 Shields knowingly crosses generic and stylistic boundaries without entirely dismantling them: she thus may be viewed as creating a form of “magic realism” which opens up “new ways of perceiving the world” (Jeanne Delbaere, in Ramon 67). Whether defined as revealing the “miracles” within realism’s quotidian, or as “an identifiably postmodern product” (Harding-Russell, in Vauthier, Reverberations 114), Shields’s breakthrough collection spoke to a new generation of writers and readers clearly interested in “new ways of perceiving.”
Moving from vision to voice, Caribbean/Canadian writer Olive Senior has been celebrated for eloquently voicing Jamaican Creole speakers in her story collections, beginning with her first, Summer Lightning (1986). In Senior’s words,
It took me a long time … to get Summer Lightning published. Publishers said they liked it but that I should rewrite it in standard English. It was something of a breakthrough for Longman to publish it [in the Longman Caribbean Writers series], because the narrative voice is also in Creole in a lot of cases. There were even editors editing my work on the assumption that I did not know the English language. (Thomas, Afterword 163)
Explicitly “dialogizing” standard, school-taught English, Senior underscored the sociolinguistic politics of colonization in contemporary Jamaica. And sliding from cultural politics to sexual critique, Findley’s first explicitly homosexual character, Stuart Bragg, was born in two short stories, “Bragg and Minna” and “A Gift of Mercy” (Stones 1988). Bragg learns to draw on “camp” discourse to trouble heteronormative attitudes just as his wife, Minna, mocks rigid class structures by means of her sarcastic wit.
Despite the eight authors’ “Stubborn Particulars of Grace,” to quote poet Bronwen Wallace’s resonant title, however, there are overarching commonalities. For instance, gender and sexual politics clearly interest women writers Shields, Birdsell, and Senior, but we must not overlook the male writers’ questioning of codes of masculinity and heterosexuality, especially in the case of Findley, a publicly “out” gay writer.19 The culture clashes of colonization, and the resulting hybridizing of language or communication modes, strongly interest King and Senior, although one from a Native North American context, one from an “exiled” Jamaican. Drawing the border between ourselves and the United States of America tellingly omitted First Nations people, a situation out of which Thomas King would make unforgettable satire in his story, “Borders” (One Good Story, That One, 1993). Writing of her homeland, Senior eloquently uncovers a vernacular tradition rooted in rural and matriarchal communities, in opposition to imported Western notions of “progress.” This is seen, for instance, in “The Two Grandmothers” (Arrival of the Snake Woman, 1989) where a mixed-race child travels between the homes of black, rural Grandma Del, and her status-seeking grandmother “Towser,” who fights to conceal both her age and mixed racial heritage. A more modest case could be made for MacLeod, as I mentioned above, and his treatment of the Celtic diaspora and the resulting wave of eighteenth-century immigration to Atlantic Canada, replayed in this century’s global labour migrations.20 In addition, Birdsell, Hodgins, and Vanderhaeghe often explore the silencing of minoritized ethnicities and marginalized regions. A brief (re)introduction to all eight as short story writers will bring out their “double-voicing,” in a suggestive, rather than prescriptive, manner. The stories themselves will be treated in depth in what follows.
I will begin with the three elders who now belong to history: Timothy Findley (1930–2002), Carol Shields (1935–2003), and Alistair MacLeod (1936–2014). While Canadians have mourned them as individuals respected, admired, even loved, we remain grateful for the stories they have left behind. The oldest subject of this study, Timothy Findley (b. 1930), enacted doubleness in his sexual orientation as a gay man, at odds with his middle-class, WASP origins from central Ontario and his privileged childhood in Rosedale, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Toronto. Beginning as an actor, Findley adapted his performative impulse to the page instead of the stage, eventually becoming a well-loved novelist, playwright, and short story writer. His “double-voicing” addresses class, gender, and sexuality, with a special interest in questioning dominant depictions of masculinity. Lorraine York notes that many of Findley’s male figures search “for a way of being male that will not align [them] with the paternal authoritarianism of fascistic ideologies” (“Findley” 404–05). Heather Sanderson agrees, but extends York’s argument, noting that “However much Findley may be trapped within the dominant discourses he analyses, [he] advocates multiplicity and inclusiveness against the rigid hierarchies of discourse as a beginning in the struggle to rewrite the distribution of power in postcolonial society” (“ ‘God this’ ” 30–31). His story collections also reflect this struggle: his first, Dinner Along the Amazon (1984), emphasizes the outsider’s perspective, with great sympathy for women and children. Stones (1988) and Dust to Dust (1997), with their treatment of madness and mortality, introduce us to writers Minna and Bragg, his unconventional married couple—plus Colin Marsh, Bragg’s lover—in four linked stories that span the two collections. Overall, as Sanderson suggests, Findley’s short stories “demonstrate the interpenetration of dramatic and fictional techniques … particularly his concern to evoke the voice in the act of speaking or of being silent” (“What Is There Left to Say?” 87). Speaking for the silenced, in fact, may have been one of the defining features of Findley’s writing voice.
Carol Shields (b. 1935), a dual American-Canadian citizen, and a prolific novelist as well as poet, playwright, and story writer, has recently been revalued as a deceptively “conventional” woman writer who revealed “the extraordinary as emerging out of the ordinary, issuing from the very matrix of everyday life, and illuminating the complexities, the indeterminacies, the contradictions, the value at the heart of the ordinary” (Dvořák and Jones 4). Since Shields’s early death from breast cancer, her work has received much critical attention, from Canada and abroad, as if to make up for earlier neglect.21 Yet Alex Ramon notes, “there remains a tendency amongst critics to either celebrate or denigrate her fiction as the conventional, conservative work of ‘a genial suburban miniaturist’ ([Morrison 2002b]” 1). This critical bias makes an assessment of her short stories even more timely. Shields wrote three volumes: the ground-breaking Various Miracles (1985), The Orange Fish (1989), and Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000). What all three books have in common is an increasing self-consciousness, delivered with great wit and whimsy, about communication acts of all kinds, and a “double-voicing” of the self as both embodied in domestic life and performed in the cultural “carnival.” As Shields confided to me, “There’s nothing about existence that interests me more than language does. I think it’s what makes us human” (Voice 197). In a review of her final collection, Margaret Walters underlines Shields’s fascination with a “subjectivity that is, and must be, the source of all true storytelling” (21). The year 2004 saw the publication of her Collected Stories, including one fascinating unfinished piece, “Segue,” which may be read either as a story or as a proto-novel. In 2012, Shields was the subject of the long-running Symposium on Canadian Literature organized by the University of Ottawa, culminating in The Worlds of Carol Shields (2014), a celebration of her career by over twenty writers, critics, friends, and family members.
Alistair MacLeod (b. 1936) is very definitely associated with historical place—the history of the Celtic diaspora to North America, specifically Cape Breton, Nova Scotia—and his stories are often seen as poignant reminders of our embeddedness in landscape as well as language. Yet for him, the language is Gaelic, the disappearing mother tongue of colonized or dispersed Scots and Irish. Much-anthologized, MacLeod has been canonized almost exclusively within the short story form, but his work seems to stand in false isolation from his Canadian peers, as many of his early stories were published in American journals, leading to the presentation of “The Boat” and “The Lost Salt Gift of Blood” first in Best American Stories, then Best Canadian Short Stories, as well as The Best Modern Canadian Short Stories (Kruk, Voice 245). Like Findley, MacLeod has documented the silences of masculinity, especially within a working-class context where orality and textuality, the clan and the modernity, are frequently in conflict. MacLeod’s two collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986) were published a decade apart, leading one scholar to write, “He works slowly, but with lapidary sureness, cutting and polishing each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph to achieve rhythms and density characteristic of poetry” (Mitchell 708). These seemingly regional stories have travelled well, being translated into languages such as French, Russian, Norwegian, Italian, and (ironically or aptly) Gaelic. In fact, MacLeod’s fiction has now travelled back home, leading one critic to extend the usual discussion of regionalism in MacLeod into a “region of the mind” by including “the geographical territory of Cape Breton, the functional community of Gaelic speakers, and the mythic landscape of Scottish history and legend” (Sandrock 172).22 Describing MacLeod’s specific linguistic double-voicing, Colin Nicholson remarks “one of the things [MacLeod] is doing is memorializing an immigrant culture from the Highlands and the Islands at a time when its historical purchase in Nova Scotia begins to slip: both memorializing and, since he is writing in English, enacting that moment of slippage” (“Signatures of Time” 98). In 2000, Island was triumphantly released, comprising his two collections plus the new stories “Island” and “Clearances.” The fall of 2013 saw the publication of what would be his last story, “Remembrance,” specially commissioned by the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival.
If MacLeod is associated strongly with the settlement history of Cape Breton Island, Jack Hodgins (b. 1938) is often discussed in terms of his own “Island Mind” (Jeffrey)—but from the other side of the country. Vancouver Island, the backdrop to Spit Delaney’s Island (1976), is his most familiar setting, but his characters too must often leave home for work or love, inspiring a similar tension of loyalties. And if MacLeod’s stories conjure up folklore, Hodgins’s often draw on magical, or mythical, exuberance to portray the struggles of their men and women to feel at home in their changing selves and environments. In a recent critical reappraisal, Annika Hannan probes the author’s debt to what has been called “magic realism.”23
Recognizing common interests with other New World writers—some of whom, as Hodgins points out, share his coastline—Hodgins declares that Garcia Márquez’s influential novel Cien años de soledad (1967; trans. One Hundred Years of Solitude) “worked some kind of magic” (Hancock, “Interview” 39) in him, particularly in terms of its energy, its critique of colonialism, and its sense of community (“Introduction” 14). If Spit Delaney’s Island is readily seen as a “short story cycle,”24The Barclay Family Theatre is more subtly structured as the stories of “The Fabulous Barclay Sisters!,” now dispersed from their island home, although this is not fully revealed until the end by their nephew Clay Desmond, the surprising chronicler.25 In Damage Done by the Storm (2004), Hodgins’s most recent collection, he widens his focus to present an odd assortment of outsiders, escapees, and loners coping with various kinds of “damage.” Reviewer Duffy Roberts punningly reads this key word as organizing the stories in subtle ways: as “more sonic, lateral, and metaphorical … damage rendered as dam plus age, or damn age, or even damn image.” In “Seeing the Small First: Spit Delaney’s Island and The Barclay Family Theatre,” French scholar Jeanne Delbaere argues that, despite Hodgins’s many experiments with realism, this mode is “ultimately at the service of a moral vision since it is meant to heighten rather than to do away with the real, to distinguish between counterfeit and reality, invention and creation” (41)—key concepts in Hodgins’s literary world that make it more than “small” or regional. His interest in margins and borders of all kinds inspires his ironic yet life-affirming double voice. As he himself admits with boyish earnestness, “almost everything has so many ways of looking at it, that the minute I wrote a serious piece of biting satire, I would be able to sit down and write one from the opposite point of view, and be just as sincere” (Kruk, Voice 149).
Olive Senior is a recent entry within Canadian literature: indeed, it is worth asking, directly—does she belong in this company at all? Born in 1941 in Jamaica, a region that was a British colony at the time, Senior is associated with what H. Nigel Thomas calls “African Diasporic literature” and the issue of “nation language” for writers working within English (160). In her own words,
I grew up in a Jamaican mountain village where story was always popping all over the place—storytelling was our entertainment, our radio and newspaper, and our socializing agent … And despite my formal education as exposure to text, to the Western literary canon, when I came to write, it was these elements of storytelling in the oral culture that served as a model—of creating fictions that are engaging because they engage the other. (“Lessons” 41)
A journalist and a poet first, Senior worked her way slowly into fiction depicting her homeland. Yet her careful creation of Jamaican Creole speakers in her first collection, Summer Lightning (1986), brought her to the attention of readers beyond Jamaica. Indeed, her second collection, Arrival of the Snake-Woman (1989), has recently been reprinted by TSAR press, reflecting her choice since 1993 to reside in Canada, where she studied journalism, while still keeping close ties to her birthplace. In contrast to Shields, Senior’s border-crossing is linguistic as well as cultural; indeed, she considers herself effectively “bilingual” as she grew up “speaking creole and English” (Dubois and Devoize 278). Marie-Annick Montout points out the special “orality effect” in her work, where Senior
manages to wonderfully integrate the varieties of influences to which Caribbean people have been exposed and she strikes a complicated note of her own in the intricate geometry of two modes of story-telling. The spoken word does not contrast with the written word; on the contrary, it is part and parcel of the fabric of the written text where it serves the purpose of introducing a counter-discourse to balance the authorized discourse. (176)
In terms of the politics of race, Senior, who calls herself “racially mixed,” has resolved these tensions “in the sense that now I affirm myself as a Caribbean person, and the way I define that is as somebody who, precisely like me, embodies, if not different races, different cultures” (Dawes 81–82). Her choice of Toronto—Canada’s largest, most multicultural city—is telling. Like Toronto-based author Rohinton Mistry, she, too, chooses to write, in a kind of artistic self-exile, exclusively about her homeland. Acknowledging the lack of reference to Canada in her fiction, Denise deCaires Narain argues that “this ‘dislocated locatedness’ is a defining feature of Caribbean history and literary culture, and of Senior’s oeuvre. It is still the case that many contemporary Caribbean writers have to leave the region to maintain careers as writers” (2). Senior’s third collection, Discerner of Hearts (1995), continues this trend, but the fact that her publisher is now McClelland and Stewart (also known as “The Canadian Publishers”) reveals her shift from the margins to the centre of postcolonial, twenty-first-century Canadian literature. However, not everyone is convinced: Michael Thorpe concludes his review of Discerner of Hearts with the assertion, “hers is a Jamaican, not (yet) a Canadian voice” (455). In the context of decolonization, Senior has embraced a discourse “of relocation, opposition, or deconstruction” placing her allegiance “in [her] own voice … and in the figurative language that emerges from [her] locale” (New, Grandchild 30). But if “double-voicing” is intrinsically tied to the choice of Canadian identity, residence, and publication, then Olive Senior’s short stories may also find a home in Canadian literature.26 The commissioning of two stories for broadcast on CBC Radio in 1996 and 1997—“Window” and “The Pain Tree”—seems to suggest that they have.27
Sandra Birdsell (b. 1942), although conventionally depicted as a prairie or Western writer in terms of regional identification, is much more complex in origins than she appears: of German Mennonite and Metis parentage, she aptly describes herself as “on the edge of things”28 in terms of our official narratives of national identity. Both marginalized ancestries combine in her perspective, which is highly sensitive to the limitations imposed by gender and class restrictions, inspiring her “double-voicing” in language use as well as worldview. The middle sibling of eleven children, Birdsell grew up in a working-class world and, like Findley, is largely self-educated. Her first work, a collection of linked stories, Night Travellers (1982), speaks to the pragmatic advantages of short story writing for self-supporting women. Her second collection, Ladies of the House (1984), continued the focus on the Lafreniere sisters of Agassiz, Manitoba, in what one critic calls “an intriguing puzzle of real-life incidents, deliberately ambiguous and fragmented, and sometimes even miraculously visionary” (Heinen-Dimmer 166). As Birdsell revealed in our interview, “I wanted to put a lot of magic in Night Travellers, especially where it concerned the father, and his [Native] ancestors … And I was encouraged to take [it] out” (Kruk, Voice 57). Yet Birdsell got braver: in 1997, she published The Two-Headed Calf, a more inventive, less unified collection of stories that probe the experiences of various outsiders—Metis, Mennonites, Russian immigrants—giving voice to the frequently voiceless in a mode that mingles the real and the surreal, visionary or magical. Her two earlier collections have now been combined into Agassiz Stories (2002). In 2010, Victoria Kuttainen discussed these conjoined collections as an instance of “Settler Postcolonialism” wherein “Birdsell works loose her own personal and remarkably entangled German–Russian–Mennonite–Metis–Canadian historical relations in a fraught attempt to reveal other ways of inhabiting the land of Canada more ‘authentically’” (248). Birdsell’s fiction may indeed be “fraught,” but it remains undeniably human(e) in its attempts to address twenty-first-century Canadian citizenship in our increasingly complex world.
If Senior is an international border-crossing writer, Thomas King (b. 1943) is a national one: self-identified as Cherokee, Greek, German, King “is especially sensitive to the power of borders. Yet he is also extremely interested in the spaces ‘in-between’ those borders, whether they are literal or figurative” (Davidson, Walton, and Andrews 4). Moving to Canada from the United States only solidified that fascination. King’s ability to inhabit both insider and outsider positions, culturally and intellectually, makes his humour operate like a “double-bladed knife,” as Atwood puts it in a review of his short fiction. King’s first collection, One Good Story, That One (1993) incorporates the comical trickster-figure Coyote; deft use of irony, satire, and parody to critique Western Judeo-Christian culture and discourse; and an “interfusional” writing mode adopted by his Native storytellers. As King protests in a playful exchange elsewhere with Atwood, “You have to have a wise old Indian in any stories you have about Indians, for crying out loud” (Atwood, “In Conversation” 7). A Short History of Indians in Canada (2005) is more varied in subject matter and often darker in tone. King has declared, “I think of myself as a dead serious writer. Comedy is simply my strategy” (Canton 97). More recently, King has also published The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012). He describes this not as a work of traditional history—with which he obviously has issues—but as “a series of conversations and arguments that I’ve been having with myself and others for most of my adult life” (xii).29 Both King, as a “mixed-blood” man playfully dramatizing Native-Canadian critique, and Senior, as a self-exiled Caribbean-Canadian writer, boldly bring Canadian literature into the postcolonial context, unsettling our complacency by mixing different voices and visions into our English (-Canadian) “mainstream.”
The last writer of the group, Guy Vanderhaeghe (b. 1951), is also associated, like Birdsell, with the West, having maintained his writing career from Saskatchewan while writing frequently about the border country between Canada and America, pre-Confederation, or what was then called “the Northwest Territories,” before being divided into Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. Vanderhaeghe initially made his mark in short stories, winning the Governor General’s Award with his first (published) collection, Man Descending (1982); the British edition of 1986 won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. The title’s notion of man’s “descent,” in an existential, often pessimistic, probing of ethics and manhood, recurs throughout his career. Socialized in a rural environment, Vanderhaeghe remains committed to exploring men—and men’s morality—within their own particular historical context. His second published collection, The Trouble with Heroes (1983), was in fact a compilation of earlier work, sharing a focus on men and their struggle for their own definition of heroism. In our interview, he commented, “The ‘trouble’ with ‘heroes’ is really the notion of what heroism is … [of] what constitutes heroism. And in my mind, it has more to do with the distance you travel, than with measures of conventional accomplishment” (Kruk, Voice 227–28). Vanderhaeghe’s writing has certainly travelled as his works “have been translated into Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and French and have been reviewed in such publications as The New Yorker, TLS: The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian (London), The Sunday Times (London), and The Irish Times (Dublin)” (Calder 244). Vanderhaeghe has also published a third story collection, with the questioning title, Things As They Are? (1992). Like Alice Munro’s famous titular interrogation, Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), Vanderhaeghe’s seems to suggest a continuing “double-voicing” about being Canadian, being male, and being human. Yet despite his avowed “stoicism” (Kruk, Voice 228), Vanderhaeghe does not deny the possibility of human beings transcending their limitations and becoming “honourable,” if not heroic. In 2007, taking an ethical stance, he told Herb Wyile that, “Honour, in my mind, is closely identified with a moral sense … For instance, that the strong should protect the weak is honourable” (49). His unflinching depictions of weakness and strength in men and women caught in moments of crisis is a reminder of the many ways of getting at the “real” in fiction—as well as the “edge.”30
So, we have eight short story writers—three women, five men—each with their own careers, concerns, accomplishments, but who may be brought together for productive comparison in terms of their unique creation of the double voice. Initially, it is appealing to pair them off in terms of simplistic geographical or cultural affiliations: MacLeod with Hodgins for parallel island mentalities; Senior with King as postcolonial border-crossers; Birdsell with Vanderhaeghe relating to western and class consciousness; and Findley with Shields as uncovering the buried secrets of the middle-ground of centrist Canada. That may work as a starting point, but it is not where we end up. For instance, although I am speaking of English-Canadian writers within the realist mainstream, at least half of the group—Senior, King, Birdsell, and MacLeod—reflect other languages, or other communication modes, within a supposedly monological medium of English, as shall be discussed in what follows. Yet even the so-called mainstream writers of white, middle-class, suburban Canada, Shields and Findley, document definite fault lines, gaps, and silences in the lives of “ordinary” people. Rewarding a closer look, these stories have unique appeal for Canadian readers in a twenty-first-century context as well as for contemporary readers who increasingly cross national boundaries out of their own “narrative hunger,” as Shields dubbed it.31 “Double-voicing” is my own “framing” device, for I acknowledge Ian Reid’s insight that while interpretation is often an act of partial and provisional framing, short stories tend to “emphasize the instability of any frames through which they are interpreted” (Lohafer and Clarey 301). As old as human community, as ancient as storytelling, stories continue to carry us beyond temporal and national borders. In my own attempt to go back to the future, I am returning to the figure and function of voice in short fiction and the age-old theme of identity, to show how eight contemporary Canadian writers are engaged in that discovery, while inevitably problematizing, probing, and questioning identity, subjectivity, or the self by “double-voicing” in theme, technique, mode, and linguistic style. In the chapters that follow, “double-voicing” will be explored in fictional interrogations of narratives of the family, sexuality, gender, culture, ethnicity, and region—even subjectivity. For, as Shields commented in an interview with Eleanor Wachtel a few years before her early death, “The self never seems to me to be a static thing. It’s ever-changing and literally changing from moment to moment, as the rest of the world bounces off us” (106). Perhaps it is the intersection of the “self” and “the rest of the world”—our two essential fictions—that these stories most powerfully “double-voice.”
Borders mean metamorphosis, personal transformation. They offer the opportunity to be and not be simultaneously, or to be two opposing things without deception.
—Clark Blaise, “The Border as Fiction,” Selected Essays
“Without deception,” I here admit to embracing “two opposing things” in this book, or to inhabiting my own borderland between public and private, literary and scholarly voices. If the subject of this book is the Canadian short story in English, it occurs to me now that weaving together its many voices, attitudes, and arguments is a kind of narrative act in itself, one that leads me irresistibly towards fictional play in my concluding homage, “L’Envoi: The Bus to North Bay.” Feminist criticism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has increasingly demanded that we put ourselves in the picture, or that we at least circle back to address our own double voice. As the author of these different chapters, or stories about Canadian short fiction, each inspired by distinct convergences of history, curiosity, opportunity, biography, it is instructive to pause here to consider my own thematics of focalization, or how my critical or literary voice shapes my vision. It should be acknowledged that other Canadian writers working in English short fiction during this time period, alongside the eight, could have been included. An alternate list might include Mordechai Richler, Audrey Thomas, Rudy Wiebe, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Joan Clark, Jane Rule, Elisabeth Harvor, Edna Alford, Neil Bissoondath, Jane Urquhart, and Rohinton Mistry. Yet “borders,” however provisional, have to be drawn, and to do so I have followed my reading pleasure as well as my scholarly appreciation. The product of years of study, this book reflects my engagement with a group of authors who continue to excite my interest, and who may also be taken as representative of a lasting trend in contemporary Canadian short fiction.
While my writer-centred focus on the realist Canadian short story and its “double-voicing” has remained constant, my particular readings inevitably emerge from my own historicized voicing of various otherness or doubleness. Looking back at my earlier work has offered a unique opportunity for self-critique and self-awareness, documenting my intellectual and theoretical development, along with the changing emphases of Canadian criticism. Chapters 1 to 6 are arranged in more-or-less the order in which I wrote them—or wrote the original papers, germinating themselves from much briefer conference presentations. Thus, I can trace the preoccupations and passions of my earlier, younger voice as I scan the Contents. For instance, it is not surprising to find a young female scholar exploring gender dynamics in chapter 1, “Hands and Mirrors: Reflections on Gender in the Short Stories of MacLeod and Findley.” There, I enthusiastically apply a feminist-trained eye to texts via the then-new field of men’s studies or masculinity studies. The “double-voicing” discussed here, in two stories dealing with lost fathers, narrated by their failed sons, is philosophical in nature, addressing gender identity as both embodied and performative, symbolized by the hand and the mirror. While Findley and MacLeod seem to present polarized positions on gender as the analysis begins, by its end, they have “overlapped,” as Hodgins put it in our interview, or appear to identify with one another (Kruk, Voice 144). The focus on masculinity continues with chapter 2, “Mothering Sons: Stories by Findley, Hodgins and MacLeod Uncover the Mother’s Double Voice,” and its probing of the cultural constructedness of family roles and “gender scripts.” Yet it is the mother’s double voice which is “mothered” by each son through speech acts of witnessing, performing, and memorializing, allowing her in each case to break away from scripted feminine behaviour to experience moments of potential agency. To trace this theme, I drew on emerging maternal feminist scholarship of the late twentieth century, something I, then a new mother, was exploring from the inside out. Family dynamics remain the core literary subject matter for these writers, as for me, but the intersection of family politics with storytelling as narrative performance then sparked me to consider a new kind of sociolinguistic “double-voicing” in chapter 3, one combining “orality effects” within high literacy and modernist realism. In “Storykeepers: Doubling Family Voice in Stories by King, Senior, MacLeod, and Vanderhaeghe,” I gave new consideration to a more flexible Canadian literature, defined within a postcolonial framework, bringing in Senior’s recent recognition within our canon. Chapter 4, “Pinking the Triangle, Drawing the Circle: Double-Voicing Family in Findley’s Short Fiction,” presents ...