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Over seven weeks since the last one, and a month since the winner was decided, this is third in a series of posts on the books chosen for this year’s Canada Reads on CBC Radio. Tardiness aside, my original goal of reading all five and choosing my favourite remains alive! Previous entries have been on Icefields by Thomas Wharton and King Leary by Paul Quarrington.

Unfortunately, in the month since I’ve read by Mavis Gallant, I’ve lost the notes I made on it. I recall hurriedly copying some of my favourite quotes from it on a piece of scrap paper before turning it back into the library, but there’s no sign of it now, nor any evidence that the pencil scratchings ever got copied to my computer.

As I’ve said before, I suspect it is much more difficult to write a good short story than other types of fiction. Developing any of of a setting, plot, and characters that a reader can loose themselves in, fall in love with, or learn something from is ridiculously difficult to do in a short story. Mavis Gallant, unfortunately, struggled with this as much as any other author I’ve read. Though the stories may resonate with some, for the most part this relies on chance. My mom’s favourite story in the collection was the one (or one of the ones) that focused on the mother. Mine was the Moslem Wife, not because I thought it was a particularly good story, but because many of the things the main character said are things I think. (The majority of the quotes I wrote down and lost came from her.)

Now of course, getting that connection with a reader is hard to go and Gallant should be commended for being able to write stories that do that. But this collection as a whole doesn’t really stand up to some of the other books in this year’s Canada Reads selections. Yes, for a few paragraphs I really enjoyed one story. The rest of the time, I was struggling to get a sense of the new setting, the new characters, the new story that was being told. It was beautiful writing, to be sure. It would be nice to have it read to me as I’m falling asleep, as flowing and soothing as the language tended to be, but like Zaib Shaik said, the prose is a lot like Nicole Kidman—”beautiful, but you wouldn’t want to date her.”

Even if this was a single unified novel, I still think it would be more about the writing—the actual style and sound of the words and phrases—than a story I actually want to hear. In the end, that’s where I was left. Very little about these fragmented stories stuck with me or spoke to me in any way that made me fall in love with them. I felt overwhelmed by a beautiful delivery but still wanting in content.

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