I Don't Want To Know Anyone Too Well - and Other Stories


159 pages
ISBN 0-88879-070-8





Reviewed by Gerald Noonan

Gerald Noonan was Associate Professor of English at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, and co-editor of A Public and Private Voice.


Despite the competent narration and some deft touches, these stories are ultimately unsatisfying. This reprint is a collection of fifteen stories originally published individually in Canadian and British magazines; six have been read on CBC’s “Anthology.” It is probably true that the material, because it depends on a first-person confessional tone and comes from a variety of persons, would be read with less distraction in a number of discrete publications.

Several of the sketches seem to reflect Levine’s personal history — as a Canadian writer expatriated voluntarily to England for most of his adult years. On occasion, though, the persona is a doctor, a mine worker, a teacher, sometimes married, with children, sometimes not. Since thematic detail is sparse, the changeling narrator keeps the reader — left much to his own devices, at any rate — groping.

As an example (lest this seem a plea for the didactic), the “device” in “English for Foreigners” is a gift-box of Turkish cigarettes given to the narrator, a teacher, by an elderly woman student. When the narrator sells the gift in order to buy food for his (abruptly introduced) needy family, the story concludes with his thought that “I had betrayed something.” There’s no hint at all of what the gift represented in the mind of the woman, and thus no particular reason for the reader to feel the impact of the guilt or of the story.

Sparse as it is, Levine’s laconic presentation of fact does evoke some of the lifestyle of 1940s Montreal and Ottawa. Nonetheless, the most successful story, for me, is “Feast Days and Others” where the narrator is a child of a poor family in Britain. Here the episodic naturalistic details of place and people successfully convey the disconnected neutrality and mentality of the child’s world. From an adult narrator, however, who has an obvious expectation that the reader share his reflections of significance, I look for more crafty development by the author.

Levine’s title, if not his title story, suggests that he is doing precisely what he means to; his readers, like his narrators, never get to know anyone too well.


Levine, Norman, “I Don't Want To Know Anyone Too Well - and Other Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38603.