Variations on a theme

Rising to a Tension

By Jack Ruttan

A review of Rising to a Tension by Edited By Tom Abray, Neale Mcdevitt

Published on April 1, 2004

Rising to a Tension
Edited By Tom Abray, Neale Mcdevitt

Cumulus Press
$15
paper
168pp
0-9733499-0-5

Two new books of short stories are out from local publishers, a treat which seems rare these days given the dominance of the novel and other venues for stories such as magazines, the internet, and chapbooks.

Rising to a Tension (it has to be said out loud to hear the play on words) may sound like an anthology of erotic fiction, but it isn’t. It is thirteen stories selected in a conscious attempt to uncover new writers. That “New” applies in more than one sense of the word, since, as the birth dates beside the writers’ names show, the authors are all under 25.

The variety of stories is dazzling; if anything, one could complain that most of them end just as the reader is getting interested. The narrator in Paul Comrie’s travel story “Running at the Foot of Ararat” hardly pauses for the people and sights he runs into, and is already on the return flight only three pages after his arrival. Véronique Dorais’ story of a young Canadian soldier initiated into the Vietnam War belies the youth of the author, unless she was able to climb into a time machine.

Julia Kelk’s “Sweet Cream” is Chekhovian in the mystery it creates around an unhappy guest at a wedding, only this mystery asks who was in the next washroom stall throwing soggy toilet paper? “C/O” by Sophie Levy is a formally complex but lyrical account of a couple, one of whom is suffering from a fatal disease.

Pasted into the front inside flap is “A Trestle Chapbook” with a story by Elisabeth Harvor, which was named a “Best American Short Story” in 1971, when Harvor herself was under 25. Longer than the other stories here, it seems part of an earlier literary tradition, relying on quotes and echoes of other written works to inform the experience Harvor writes about. It is intended here as a trailblazer for the younger writers, pointing them towards what is hoped will be a career as long and honoured as Harvor’s own. mRb

Jack Ruttan is a freelance writer, illustrator, and comic artist, native of the fair land of Alberta, now comfortably living in Montreal.

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