Man Descending

Description

230 pages
$16.95
ISBN 0-7715-9713-4

Year

1982

Contributor

Reviewed by R. Gordon Moyles

R. Gordon Moyles is professor emeritus of English at the University of
Alberta, co-author of Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British
Views of Canada, 1880–1914, and author of The Salvation Army and the
Public.

Review

When one first picks up Man Descending, one is struck by the words of praise on its back cover. Alice Munro, Jack Hodgins, Robert Kroetsch, and Rudy Wiebe together describe it as one of the most exciting collections of short stories by a young and relatively unknown writer that they have read. A reviewer, reading such praise, might feel “put upon” or even fearful of having to contradict such distinguished supporters. But the fear would be groundless; the words are not mere commercial bumph — they are sincere and they are true. After reading these stories one knows that Guy Vanderhaeghe, out of Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, will one day be as good and perhaps as well-known as Alice Munro herself.

The technical maturity and stylistic variety represented by these stories — all of which celebrate the individuality of ordinary people — is quite remarkable. There is, for example, the cunning transition of “The Watcher,” where we are led gently into what appears to be a mere pastoral only to be caught in a net of violence; or the brilliant combination of humor and pathos in “The Reunion” (Vanderhaeghe’s strength); or the skillful handling of adolescent diction in “The Drummer”; or the stark suggestiveness of the final words of “What I Learned from Caesar.” But more impressive is Vanderhaeghe’s unobtrusive wisdom — his deft depiction of human frailty and hope. There is, it seems to me, a persistent sadness here, epitomized so surely in “Man Descending,” but also a sense of determination that defies pessimism.

These are not “regional” stories; they are Canadian and they may even be Western Canadian, but they transcend boundaries. They vivify everyday experience, showing us the world (our personal worlds) through the eyes of several characters, from young children to old men. They are frightening, and funny, and painful, and pleasant as the world itself is. And, ironically, they provide us, as all good literature should, with a new vision of that world, and perhaps some armour against it. No one who reads Guy Vanderhaeghe will be disappointed.

Citation

Vanderhaeghe, Guy, “Man Descending,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38619.