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A Heart in Port

There is something in these stories that stops the breath. Perhaps it is the apparent ease with which Givner writes of complex human emotions, effectively rendering them simple and transparent, almost obvious. Perhaps it is the way she unveils the connections between her characters layer by layer, like peeling the skins off an onion bulb and finally, conclusively, getting to the pungent meat. Perhaps it is because, as Alice Munro states, it is “only here, only once,” in this posthumous publication, that we are treated to Givner’s perspective.

If there is any flaw in these stories, it is in their slight repetitiveness. They are littered with Eastern Europeans, string musicians, and Westerners displaced to Asia–but Givner, who, in life, was a cellist and an ESL teacher, was clearly doing what all writers are told to do: “write what you know.” Regardless, the common devices do not detract from the stories, as each feels like its own separate entity. Many of the stories are, also, technically unfinished, subjected to only bare bones editing. It is impossible to say where Givner would have taken them and what her intentions may have been. What is clear is that they show remarkable promise.

Givner’s forays into magical realism–the stories “In-Sook” and “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Cockroach”–are particularly promising. When a teacher holds a conversation with his student’s glass eye, for example, in “In-Sook,” it feels strangely natural; the magical reads as if inevitable, hitting a mark too many writers miss. It is, too, inevitable that readers will want more of Givner. (Sara Plourde)

by Emily Givner, $16.95, 210 pgs, Thistledown Press, 633 Main Street, Saskatoon, SK, S7H 0J8,

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