Alberta Bound: Thirty Stories by Alberta Writers
Sarah Robertson is an associate editor of the Canadian Book Review
According to editor Fred Stenson, “There was a time, and not so long ago, when thirty Alberta short story writers would have been hard to find. Not so, today.” Indeed. Alberta Bound showcases the talents of the well-known — Henry Kreisel, W.O. Mitchell, Rudy Wiebe, Aritha van Herk, to name a few — and, in Stenson’s prophetic words, “the soon-to-be well-known.” While the stories are not grouped thematically, many of them share common concerns. The immigrant experience is movingly conveyed in Caterina Edward’s story of an Italian woman who is transformed by the birth of her son: “His pudgy body was her first connection to the hard, foreign land. She was saved and she was bound.” Nancy Holmes’s “Bugs” (which opens with a wonderfully provocative, “It was raining the night that I discovered the bugs”) is a highly disturbing portrait of domestic horror and racial discrimination as experienced by an immigrant Polish family. Roughly half the stories in the collection are about childhood and adolescence. Edna Alford’s is the only story that concerns itself with old age. A greater balance in subject matter would have distinguished the contributions more. The childhood stories in particular tend to merge imperceptibly into one another. But there are standouts, like Jan Truss’s poignant and very Blakean “The Party” and Clem Martini’s quietly devastating “Breath of God.” A few of the superior adult stories are Bev Harris’s “Light,” a tale of sexual betrayal that is rich in psychological nuance; Mark Anthony Jarman’s Kafkaesque “Goose, Dog, Fish, Stars”; Cathy Reininger’s shocker about a battered native woman who decides to shed her victim status; and Betty Wilson’s lyrical and elegiac “White Mountains in the Moon.” The tone in Alberta Bound is generally bleak, but humor is not entirely absent. Interestingly, Stenson begins with W.O. Mitchell’s satiric “Patterns” and concludes with Aritha van Herk’s spirited and funny tale of a female con artist. Not every story in this collection is a gem, but there isn’t a real dud in the bunch. The reader is left with the hope that the editor’s assertion that Alberta Bound “could have contained the stories of many more writers and still have come up with no shortage of quality work” will be translated into future volumes of Alberta’s finest.