Plenty to enjoy in two collections of short stories

Elizabeth Cran
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Not every short story can be turned into a full-length novel. Nor can every novel be reduced in size to a short story.

To explain more lucidly what a short story is — or is not — may be almost impossible. One attempt some authors may try with some success is to excerpt a substantial passage from a novel and call it a short story. However successful this may be, I consider it cheating.

The first book today, Running the Whale’s Back (edited by Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris, Goose Lane, $19.95), contains more than one excerpt masquerading as a short story. Readers are invited to figure out which ones they are.

This collection contains 21 stories of high quality by Atlantic writers on the themes of religion, spirituality, agnosticism and simple atheism. And they come up with as many versions as there are stories.

Some of the stories which have especially struck me are The Shadow Side of Grace by Michelle Butler Hallet, in which a dying man and an orderly develop a friendship and go on to talk about God, each in his own way; The Flowers of Bermuda, in which the minister of a Cape Breton church goes on holiday to Scotland and is stabbed there, a story by D.R. MacDonald; and finally Vision by the late Alistair MacLeod, in which a 10-year-old boy visits a strange island and witnesses the latest episode of a bloody feud. If nothing else, these three stories give the reader a sense of the variety in the book.

All the stories in this collection are good as far as writing style and characters go. Many raise questions about such subjects as meaning and purpose in life, life and death and the existence of God. Altogether they are not just entertainment, but a thinking person’s book, thinly disguised as a short story collection.

How Loveta Got Her Baby by Nicholas Ruddock, a Newfoundlander now living in Ontario, is a lighter easier read. It consists of 25 linked stories, some no longer than a paragraph. The links are a number of young people, mostly from St. John’s. There are only a few older ones. They have names like Loveta Gerundy, Justin Peach, Aaron Stoodly and Hilda Cluett. They go to trade school, work as waitresses or simply hang out.

Some of the stories are funny, some ironic, some almost tragic and some a mixture.

The prose is distinctive deceptively simple. But when you’ve read one story, you realize that simplicity conceals much more. It’s published by Breakwater at $19.95.

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at her new address: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: Cape Breton church, The Guardian

Geographic location: Bermuda, Scotland, Ontario Saint John

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