Not Quite Mainstream

Not Quite Mainstream: Canadian Jewish Short Stories

By Margaret Goldik

A review of Not Quite Mainstream: Canadian Jewish Short Stories by Norman Ravvin, Editor

Published on October 1, 2002

Not Quite Mainstream: Canadian Jewish Short Stories
Norman Ravvin, Editor

Red Deer Press
$18.95
paper
246pp
0-88995-246-9

Norman Ravvin, chair of Canadian Jewish Studies at Concordia University, has pulled together this handful of eclectic short stories. They were not chosen for their Jewish content, as Ravvin explains in his introduction: “Many of the stories here do address such (explicitly Jewish) themes, but in the case of some writers, you will have to read further afield to discover how Jewishness has affected their career and outlook.”

Ravvin further states that Jewish writing “seems to be a place of true experiment and freedom from the conventional demands of the novel and poetry.” This is explicit in Joe Rosenblatt’s illustrated “Tommy Fry and the Ant Colony,” an odd mixture of child’s fable and free verse, written for adults.

In contrast is the spare, lyrical “A Minor Incident” by poet Robyn Sarah. Stories by Irving Layton, Mordecai Richler and Matt Cohen flesh out the book, but its real strength lies in its diversity of subject and style: a story translated from the Yiddish tells of a woman’s search for her family, lost in the flight from Siberia during the war; a modern Jew, writer-in-residence at a Maritimes college, learns a fast lesson about life’s precariousness; a liberal mother has to deal with her teenage son’s homosexuality; and a long-ago Russian tragedy affects a family in Toronto.

Despite some of the stories’ brutal topics (how does a mother lose all but one of her children and still survive?), the overall effect is as varied as life itself. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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