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Pickle Me This

October 7, 2007

Damage Done by the Storm by Jack Hodgins

Reading Jack Hodgins’ collection of short stories Damage Done by the Storm was something of a disorienting process. He writes stories about loggers, skewing my rather shoddily-constructed moral perspective through which loggers are regarded as evil-doers (and yet I cherish books as I do. Hmmm). Hodgins writes even of compulsive loggers, amusingly in “The Drover’s Wife” and so touchingly in “Inheritance”. Place is fundamental to most of these stories, usually Vancouver Island which I know so little of. And these stories go about in ordinary directions, until a sharp turn one way or the other, though so subtly written you mightn’t even know you’re off the path, and then you are, and here is a place you’ve never before.

The final three stories of this collection are connected, and together demonstrate the power of the short story form. “Promise”, “Inheritance”, and “Astonishing the Blind” tell the story of a family over forty years, from multiple perspectives. Each of these stories is brilliantly rich (though “Atonishing the Blind” in particular literally took my breath away), but together they manage to tell more about this family than even a triology of epic novels could. Moreover they tell us so much with such peculiar details, and we fill in the blanks ourselves– a brilliantly personal and engaging process which renders a book our own.

Short stories are unostentatious; they do what they do without calling attention. Of course I only saw the power of these three stories in particular because they were stuck right together, but all the stories in this collection have the very same force. What one incident can tell you about a lifetime: the woman who is waiting for a ferry to dock in “The Crossing”, the retired senator braving a snowstorm to get to his grandson in “Damage Done by the Storm”, the Faulkner scholar and her son travelling through Mississippi in “The Galleries”.

Hodgins also writes well about what it is to be getting old– not to be quite old yet, but to have those days just ahead, and he also writes of the strange predicament many people are experiencing now in still having their parents living at this time in their lives. I remember reading in Carol Shields’ and Blanche Howard’s letters that there weren’t enough old people in fiction, enough room for oldness (beyond, you know, “the grandmother” in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” or something) and I feel Hodgins’ people in Damage Done by the Storm would satisfy what they were looking for. Which would be something like reality.

Short stories are tough because you can’t pick them up and put them down, but rather you have to make time: they’re not as portable as they seem. But they’re worth it. One story before bed went down very well, this collection perfectly complementing my recent bout of nonfiction, and altogether providing me with a satisfying reading week.

2 thoughts on “Damage Done by the Storm by Jack Hodgins”

  1. Kate S. says:

    I love what you say about short stories here, and you’ve got me very keen to read Hodgins’ collection!

  2. Kerry says:

    It was really enjoyable. And one of those books that will be a completely different experience the second time around, I think– there’s so much there.

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