Carolyn Hlus was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Alberta, Edmonton.
Many of the 10 stories in Transfigurations explore the provincial lives of Acadiens, but Janice Kulyk Keefer does not limit herself exclusively to that topic. She focuses on personal relationships of adults and of children caught in their parents’ marital upheavals as well as on everyday family situations. There is, in fact, a common thread of universality running throughout the collection. With unusually insightful and memorable descriptive force, Keefer considers the “transfigurations” characters undergo as they pass from time to time and place to place.
The Acadien stories combine a number of themes. Besides being a study of Acadien life, “Transfigurations” describes the life of a 17-year-old girl who works in a beauty salon and delights in the flirtations of the “truck drivers from off the ferries from Yarmouth and Digby.” The story has a pronounced feminist theme. “April Showers,” which reveals the unfounded assumptions of both those who remain in the Acadien town of Meteghen and a 35-year-old Meteghan-born woman who has found “success” in Vancouver, is a study of universal human paradoxes. “Musee Acadien,” with its vivid description of an Acadien museum, reveals the breach of understanding between a community and its wandering cosmopolitan progeny. Although these characters are Acadiens, the themes of the stories are universal in meaning.
Similarly, the stories with characters of no clearly defined cultural background have universal appeal. They frequently explore failed communication, often between the members of generations of families. “Christmas Without Snow,” expertly told from a child’s perspective, describes parents persistently pushing their newly separated daughter into an image she has long ago outgrown. Philip, while under “the starry night sky,” in the story of that title, overhears his father chronicle a battle under stars which provoked in him a life-long loathing of starry nights; ironically, Philip is unable to reach out and touch his father and bridge the
gap separating them. In “Passages,” a brother and sister finally overcome a grudge which separated them for 40 years.
Janice Kulyk Keefer has a capacity for pinpointing the subtle ironies of life, whether or not her characters are Acadien. Keefer, who is a scholar of Mavis Gallant’s works, uses techniques of irony similar to her mentor’s to unsettle her readers and, like Gallant, she is particularly adept at revealing the conflicting emotions of parties in different kinds of relationships during seemingly joyful events.