Scenes from Provincial Life


114 pages
ISBN 0-88750-859-6
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Christy Conte

Christy Conte is a business analyst and entrepreneur in Ajax, Ontario.


A general unspecified pessimism seems to be the most noticeable feature
of this book. Even the environments in which these six stories are
played out—the Canadian prairie, a tired feudal English village, a
small dusty Texas town—are geographically emotionless places.

Givner touches on a number of themes: loneliness, middle-class
paranoia, ruthless ambition, and the unhappy lot of the biographer. In
the title story, homophobic provincialism, in the form of newspaper
clippings, interrupts the lonely life of Chris, a writer. So pervasive
are the messages of hate contained in the local papers that Chris is
paralyzed by fear when he spontaneously embraces a child in a gesture of
commiseration over the latter’s stopped music lessons. In one final
perfect irony, Chris calls a hotline for comfort—only to hear a
recorded message.

Givner spends a lot of time considering the life of the writer, and at
times such introspection is tedious for the casual reader. In
“Svava’s Notebook,” ruthlessness is rationalized as a sacrifice
for the cause of art. In “Short Story with Footnotes,” the blurred
line between biographer and subject is interestingly highlighted by the
use of footnotes. (Does one annotate one’s own memories?) Names,
places, and events fade in and out of the reader’s view, as they
surely must when the biographer examines another’s life in bits of
paper and conversation. Ultimately, when Givner’s biographer completes
a major work, she is all but destroyed. She is no longer a person, but a
book. In one final dismal turn, Givner’s martyred writer joyfully
anticipates the chance to do it all over again in an upcoming project.

Givner, we are told, sees fiction as a special kind of nonfiction and,
consequently, her stories are not so much expressed as they are
documented. This collection will be of interest to those curious about
the world of the writer, however dismal and destructive it may be.


Givner, Joan., “Scenes from Provincial Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,