The annual Journey Prize is supposed to be awarded for the best work of Canadian short fiction by an emerging writer. The problem is, a lot of it is just boring. I don’t know if it is a function of the tastes of this year’s readers or the state of Canadian short fiction overall, but in the majority of the stories nominated for the 2007 prize, nothing really happens.
Don’t get me wrong, the writing itself is great in each and every one of these stories. For example: the quality of the prose in Pasha Malla’s “Respite” is undeniably excellent, probably the best-written piece in the collection; but ultimately, do we really need another story about a clueless writer and his failing relationship?
“Chilly Girl” by Rebecca Rosenblum is a very charming Cinderella-type tale, with a well-drawn protagonist but what happens? She goes to a party; then, later, she goes to a restaurant. But what have we learned?
The pieces that truly stand out here are the ones in which the characters and events portrayed are a vehicle for real ideas; like Patricia Robertson’s “My Hungarian Sister,” in which a young British girl becomes infatuated with the image of a refugee during the Soviet invasion of Hungary; and “OZY” by Craig Boyko (who has been nominated for the prize three times previously), a story which begins as a reminiscence of a 10-year-old boy’s quest to reach the top of the high scores list in an arcade game (and which includes the best image of the collection: after putting a quarter into the game, “The machine chimed happily, like a baby robot gurgling at the sight of its mother”), and which flows perfectly into a meditation on the inexorable passage of time, and the contemplation of and striving for immortality and eternity.
Maybe I’ve just missed the point, but in my (admittedly highly subjective) opinion, Canada needs more stories like Boyko’s and Robertson’s; stories that are about something, not merely skilled depictions of the frustrating lives of imaginary people. (Richard Rosenbaum)
selected by Caroline Adderson, David Bezmozgis, Dionne Brand, $17.99, 171 pgs, McClelland & Stewart, 75 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, ON, M5A 2P9, mcclelland.com