The Trouble with Heroes and Other Stories
Nora D.S. Robins is co-ordinator of Internal Collections at the
University of Calgary Libraries.
Guy Vanderhaeghe’s first collection, Man Descending (Macmillan), received a 1982 Governor General’s Award and much well-deserved praise. The present collection, while not quite as strong as Man Descending, nevertheless confirms Vanderhaeghe as one of Canada’s best young writers.
The seven stories in this collection cover a wide range both in setting and in points of view. “Lazarus” and “No Man Could Bind Him” are retellings, by minor participants, of familiar New Testament stories. “Cafe Society” transports the Métis hero, Gabriel Dumont, to the Paris of 1889, while “The Prodigal” treats of death and dying in contemporary Ontario.
Vanderhaeghe uses imagery that is specific and detailed, and language that is concrete and economical. Unanticipated or “surprise” endings are a feature of his style. They beguile the reader in all but the two weakest stories, “Parker’s Dog” and “The King Is Dead.” By asking the reader to consider the nature and role and essential ambiguity of a hero, Vanderhaeghe involves his readers and makes them think and care about the characters. The title story, whose “hero,” Wesley Willis Harder, weeps because there is “no more opportunity for heroism,” is particularly effective.
The author has not been well served by the proofreader; the book is, unfortunately, marred by numerous typographical errors and an uninspired cover.