One that got away

November 30, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

Every year at this time, a veritable tsunami of “year’s best” lists crashes down around us. The New York Times has one. So does The Globe and Mail. So does Quill & Quire. Each year, these lists feature dozens of titles that I’ve not had a chance to read, and leave out one or two gems that I quite liked but nobody else seemed to pay much attention to.

In the latter category this year is Anik See’s short story collection, postcard and other stories. I’ve been talking it up in the pages of Quill and in various other places, but the book seems to have flown almost completely under the radar since its publication in September. This surprises me, not only because I think it’s a strong collection, but because it’s published by Freehand Books, the Calgary-based publisher that in its first season last year scored a Giller nomination for Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault, which led all sorts of commentators to say that Freehand was a publisher to reckon with. And yet, See’s book seems to have appeared and disappeared with little fanfare. Which is a shame.

My Quill & Quire review is online, if you’re interested. Here’s a taste:

Those who complain about the sclerotic and uninspiring nature of CanLit are usually directing their ire toward novels and novelists: it is rare to hear such complaints levelled at short-story collections. This is because, along with comedy, short stories are among this country’s most dependable cultural products. From Alice Munro to Rebecca Rosenblum, Mark Anthony Jarman to Pasha Malla, Canada has produced a wealth of innovative and adventurous practitioners of the short fiction form. Maybe it’s something in the water.

Anik See appears to have been drinking that water. Something has to explain a story like “Kingwell,” in which the tormented narrator suffers charged dreams about Toronto philosopher and author Mark Kingwell. See’s previous book, Saudade, was a collection of essays about our psychic connections to landscape and place, which helps to account for the pitch-perfect portrayal of the pretensions espoused by the denizens of Canada’s largest city: “We were in a neighbourhood called Seaton Village which, to our credit, was less expensive and even cooler than The Annex for a number of reasons (but only to Seaton Villagers).” But “Kingwell,” which does not offer a particularly flattering portrait of its titular character, is also a spot-on satire of a certain kind of Toronto intellectual: “[I]f you work in publishing in Toronto, you know how many parties there are, and how many of them consist entirely of conversations more laden with names than actual words.”

If you’re a book lover, or if you have a book lover on your Christmas list, I’d strongly urge checking this one out. If you (or they) don’t like it, you can always blame me.