In search of short stories after Munro's Nobel win? Try these recommendations | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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In search of short stories after Munro's Nobel win? Try these recommendations

Canadian author Alice Munro is photographed in Victoria, B.C. December 10, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
December 22, 2013 - 6:00 AM

TORONTO - In the Canadian book world, there was no bigger news in 2013 than that of Alice Munro's Nobel Prize in literature win, an honour that had this country beaming with pride and other nations heaping praise on the humble short story master from Wingham, Ont.

At 82, Munro was too unwell to attend the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm in early December. And in an interview with The Canadian Press after the event, she seemed to stand by her recent decision to retire from her craft.

"I have stopped writing," Munro said in the living room of her daughter's Victoria home. "I think in my mind that's a very permanent thing."

Though there may be little hope for a new short story collection from Munro, who was just the 13th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature, there are several others who are following in her footsteps in this country.

For readers who were inspired by Munro's Nobel distinction and want to further explore the genre in 2014, here are three Canadian female short story writers to consider:


Lynn Coady, who was born and raised in Cape Breton, N.S., and now lives in Edmonton:

Less than a month after Munro's Nobel win in October, Coady nabbed the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection "Hellgoing," prompting some to declare 2013 as the year of the short story in Canada.

"Hellgoing" (House of Anansi Press) has nine stories displaying Coady's flair for irreverent humour and offbeat characters who are often struggling — from an alcoholic female journalist researching a travel story in Newfoundland, to siblings dealing with the loss of their mother, and a nun helping a girl suffering from anorexia.

Giller jury members Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan and Jonathan Lethem praised "Hellgoing" as having "vivid and iconoclastic language" that "brims with keen and sympathetic wit."

And actress Wendy Crewson, who gave a speech on the book at the Giller gala, says she was "really taken" with it.

"Lynn has so many fabulous characters that are in these real punchy, grabby stories that you kind of drop into and she spits you out the other end."

"Hellgoing" won the Giller two years after Coady was a finalist for the same prize for her novel "The Antagonist."

It's her second short story collection after 2000's "Play the Monster Blind" and contains some previously published tales that go as far back as 2001.

At the Giller bash, Coady said she loves the playfulness that comes with writing short stories and feels "a pulling away from the novel these days, just because it's such an undertaking and an ordeal to kind of make that decision to sit and be committed to a novel for two years."

"Short stories are wonderful and I'm publishing a collection of them because I think they're a great genre and they totally hold their own against the novel. But they just tend not to get as much media or as much PR as the novel does, for whatever reason," she said.

"It's one of my favourite genres. It's a very special genre."

Still, she's never considered herself a short story writer on Munro's level.

"I thought of myself as a novelist who occasionally wrote short stories," said Coady, whose first novel, "Strange Heaven," was nominated for a Governor General's Award in 1998.

"But with her win and then with this, it seems like, 'Wow, maybe short stories are on the ascendancy.'"


Zsuzsi Gartner, who was born in Winnipeg, bred in Calgary and now lives in Vancouver:

Gartner was a 2011 Giller finalist for her short story collection "Better Living Through Plastic Explosives" (Hamish Hamilton Canada).

Jury members Howard Norman, Annabel Lyon and Andrew O'Hagan said it shows "the short story form at its savage best, each story capturing, with brilliant economy and grace, not only entire worlds but whole mindsets as they explode into eloquence."

Like her first short story collection, 1999's "All the Anxious Girls on Earth," "Better Living Through Plastic Explosives" is full of originality, satire and dark humour.

The 10 stories, most of which are set in the Vancouver area, include a snooty cul-de-sac clan intrigued by a new redneck neighbour who moves in on the Canada Day long weekend. Then there's the mother who writes a letter to her daughter's Grade 1 teacher to dispute her child's low mark in art class, and the college instructor drifting apart from her spouse.

"She depicts urban Vancouver and Vancouverites so well, and she has even thrown in a bit of surrealism in some of her stories, so it's just incredibly cleaver and interesting," says Mike Hamm, manager of Bookmark II Bookstore in Halifax.

"Whereas Alice, she's masterful but she's so reliable in her settings and the people that she talks about. But with Zsuzsi, it's all over the map, and it's just like looking at sparkling lights when you're reading her stories. It's like, 'What's going to attract my attention now?'"

Gartner says Munro was not an influence on her writing, but she has been inspired by the "incredible sleight-of-hand things" she did with the element of time in her later works.

"I find that about her quite fascinating, and I find her sticking to doing the stories and just keeping on, keeping on, really, really inspiring. But we're very different kind of writers."

Gartner — who has also worked as a journalist, editor and professor — says her short fiction influences include Rick Moody, David Foster Wallace, Lorrie Moore, Elise Levine, Barbara Gowdy and Donald Barthelme.

She says she's still writing short fiction and wants to publish a new collection. In March, The Walrus magazine will publish a new story of hers she describes as "very weird," "slightly futuristic" and "like a little manifesto."

"A great short story," she says, "can achieve the intensity and specificity of language of the best poetry while satisfying our primitive hunger for narrative.

"A great short story's canvas might be small, but it can contain the universe."


Miranda Hill, who was born in Niagara Falls, Ont., grew up in Alliston, Ont., and now lives in Hamilton:

Two years ago, Hill won the Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her first published story, "Petitions to Saint Chronic," about three strangers who gather at a hospital to learn the fate of a man who fell from the 24th floor of a building. Jury members Alexander MacLeod, Alison Pick and Sarah Selecky hailed it as "a wonder of narrative art."

The tale made it into Hill's debut short story collection, "Sleeping Funny" (Doubleday Canada), which she wrote over a period of four or five years and published to much acclaim last year.

A total of nine stories are in the book, with a diverse range of characters grappling with changing circumstances. Among them is a 19th century village minister on trial, a couple lavishing attention on their second child at the expense of their first-born, and a Second World War widow who uses her garden to cope with her grief.

Renowned Toronto bookseller Ben McNally heralds the collection as "offbeat and unexpected," echoing sentiments expressed by many critics, who laud her work as inventive and grounded.

Hill, who was mentored by Gartner, also pens poetry and is the founder and executive director of the national charitable organization Project Bookmark Canada.

She's now working on a novel — a multi-generational story set in Pittsburgh and Ontario's Muskoka region from the late 1800s through the 1960s — but says she wants to continue writing short fiction.

"I just love short fiction, and I don't want this to be something that is only part of my work over time. I want it to be something I continue to do, something I continue to play with, because there are things you can do in short fiction that you cannot do anywhere else."

Hill will also be busy over the holiday season taking care of her family's new puppy named Munro after the short story legend who's been a big influence on her.

"I remember very clearly a lesson that I took away (from Munro's writing) that I tried to apply to my work. ... It's not necessarily the dramatic moment of a confrontation. It's everything alongside it," she says.

"It's the story alongside the story, that makes you look somewhere different than everyone else is looking, and I think that's one of the things she does so brilliantly."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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