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October 18, 2010

The Journey Prize Stories 22

In the Canadian literary circles I tune into, everybody bitches about everything. It’s sort of a standard rule. Which makes it notable, I think, that I’ve never heard anybody complain about the dearth of a thriving literary magazine culture in this country. That I’ve never heard a writer tell me that they’d had it with Canadian lit. mags, and now they’re sending everything to some address in New York City or London. That L.A. is where the bucks are. Though no one ever says that here is where the bucks are either, but the bucks are not the point. Though they should be. Why aren’t they? And probably we could all start bitching about that.

We take these magazines for granted, however. These little outfits all over the country, often driven by volunteers, undersubscribed but over submitted to. Whose funding was cut by the Federal Government a while back, remember? These magazines that have provided stellar platforms from which our best writers have launched their careers. Magazines that readers like me have fallen in love with, and thrill to see in my mail box about four times a year.

Of course, I go on about small magazines all the time. I also spend a lot of time celebrating the short story, and the fantastic work being created in the genre by new Canadians writers. And I realize that this all can be a bit overwhelming– what magazine to read? What writers? What stories? How to get a feel for any of this? So I am very happy to answer all these questions with The Journey Prize Stories 22.

Each year, Canadian literary magazines submit their best short fiction for The Journey Prize, which was founded in 1988 when writer James Michener donated the Canadian royalties of his novel Journey.  This year’s judges were Pasha Malla, Joan Thomas and Alissa York, and they culled the list down to 12 stories which appear here. The collection was a pleasure to read, an exciting sampling of the diverse forces at work in Canadian short fiction, and an example of the amazing talent being spotted and fostered by our smaller magazines.

The three stories selected for the shortlist were all deserving– Krista Foss’ “The Longitude of Okay” is a gripping story of a school shooting incident and its aftermath, fiercely plotted, and sparsely drawn with perfect detail. Devon Code’s “Uncle Oscar” is told from the perspective of a young boy who is privy to disorder all around him, and orders that disorder in his own way. That young boy’s perspective never falters. And finally, Lynne Katsukake’s “Mating” takes place in Japan, where a husband is reluctantly supporting his wife in a an effort to find a wife for their son, and the narrative is a subtle meditation on family, love and parenthood.

For me, other standouts in the bunch were Laura Boudreau’s “The Dead Dad Game”, which is also a young person’s perspective on a broken world, and that world is realized with such humour, poignancy and quirky charm. Ben Lof’s “When In the Field With Her at His Back” is a disorienting story with all of itself encapsulated within its very first sentence, and yet it manages to be surprising. I loved Andrew McDonald’s “Eat Fist”, in which a young Ukrainian-Canadian math prodigy’s language lessons from a female weight lifter blossoms into her very first love affair. Eliza Robertson’s “Ship’s Log” is the story of a young boy who’s digging a hole to China, perhaps to escape from a home where everything has gone awry, and the gaps in this playful narrative are particularly devastating to great effect. Mike Spry’s “Five Pounds Short With Apologies to Nelsen Algren” begins, “No one ever tells you not to fuck the monkey…” and goes from there, and never falls over its feet with its furious pace.

As I read this collection, I tried to think of a way to link the stories, to find a way to talk about them all together in a review, but they each read so differently, and I never figured out how. But now I see that the small magazine thing was the underlining factor all along anyway– incredible stuff is happening here. And if you want to add your support to a really thriving culture, The Journey Prize Stories is a good place to start.

One thought on “The Journey Prize Stories 22”

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Kerry. Glad you enjoyed the story.

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