Ghost Pine: All Stories True

Ghost Pine: All Stories True

By Aparna Sanyal

A review of Ghost Pine: All Stories True by Jeff Miller

Published on October 4, 2010

Ghost Pine: All Stories True
Jeff Miller

Invisible Publishing
$16.95
paper
225pp
978-1-9267430-4-2

This collection of “true” accounts – many of which were originally published in the author’s long-running zine, also titled Ghost Pine – exemplifies the particular contemporary Canadiana created by middle-class, suburban, alienated, nomadic, politically engaged youth. Several of Jeff Miller’s stories are written from the perspective of an urbane twentysomething looking back, gently, humorously, upon his younger self. Others are travelogues depicting places both local (favourite haunts and neighbourhoods in Montreal, the author’s adopted city, and in Ottawa, his hometown) and not (hitchhiking and bus trips across the country or into the States). A few of the more mature stories deal with ageing relatives and the struggle to maintain one’s identity in an indifferent world.

Anyone to whom suburbs “became the symbol of everything wrong in the world,” who belonged to a high school “Social Justice Club,” or who marches when “evil politicians come to town” will relate to and chuckle at these slices of youthful life. While the narrator’s sincere and wry style makes Miller’s first short story collection enjoyable, the pieces can sometimes be directionless and self-indulgent, as when, in a story about a sojourn in Chicago, the reader is treated to almost every observation along the way.

The flaws of a developing writer, however, are easily outweighed in this book by signs of a more consequential voice. Sometimes the writing in Ghost Pine is stunning, making one wish that the settings for such gems were a little stronger. For example, after a pedestrian account of an on-again, off-again love affair between two young travellers, Miller writes: “The problem with falling in love with a traveller is easy to figure out. They keep moving, even after they’ve sworn you their heart. You become another town with a funny name they can say they’ve been to or a city they’re anxious to leave ….”

At other times, things come together in a way that shows promise for Miller’s future work. In “Who’s the Ghost,” Miller uses the metaphor of invisibility to describe the struggle of those idealists who “made a choice when we were younger that we sometimes regret now, with our empty bank accounts and our rotting teeth ….” Noting that “the more you care about something the less tangible it becomes …. Doubt and depression are common among ghosts,” Miller concludes with a strangely uplifting and apt image: “to all the regular people going about their day we just appear to be a layer of fog creeping across the city
streets. A completely silent cloud rubbing itself against the sides of mirrored financial towers.” mRb

Aparna Sanyal is editor of the mRb.

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