Contrary Angel


205 pages
ISBN 0-88984-239-6
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Douglas Ivison

Douglas Ivison is an assistant professor of English at Lakehead
University in Thunder Bay.


Contrary Angel is the fourth book by Toronto writer Mike Barnes. Many of
the characters in this generally strong collection of short stories are
engaged in a struggle to survive and find a place for themselves in the
margins of Canadian urban society.

“Don and Ron” is one of the collection’s highlights. Lewis, a
disenchanted university student in Hamilton, has taken a summer job in a
hospital cafeteria, in part as a means of escaping from an academic
career marred by his plagiarism of a term paper. As Lewis’s changing
understanding of himself and his place in the world is revealed, this
story demonstrates an exceptional sense of place and character. Equally
powerful are the stories “Meat,” about the destabilizing impact of
life in Toronto on a young couple recently arrived from small-town
Ontario, and “Do Not Stand Outside the Grande Restaurant,” which
focuses on the experiences of people suffering from mental illness.

The lengthy generational story sequence “Doctors” does not have the
collective impact that might have been expected, and provides a
disappointing conclusion to the collection. “Cogagwee,” an account
of the life of Tom Longboat, is a strong story that seems a bit out of
place in the collection.

Caveats aside, Contrary Angel is a worthwhile purchase. Barnes’s
prose is engaging and perceptive, and the book includes some of the best
stories published in Canada in recent years.


Barnes, Mike., “Contrary Angel,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,