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Sheila McClarty -- Night Table Recommendations

Wednesday, May 04, 2011 at 4:08pm

I am a voracious re-reader of books. On first read, I charge through the pages devouring the story. Satiated I turn back to the beginning and read slowly, ingesting the sentences and sections that I admire. Also, I confess to writing my thoughts alongside certain passages, circling unusual uses of words, and even dog-earring corners of pages, which befuddle or entrance me. I know some find this distasteful, but I hold onto the school days' joy in finding a previous reader's thoughts scribbled in the margins of textbooks - reading turned from a solitary activity into an interactive one. So my Night Table is often stacked with books that recycle themselves from top to bottom and bottom to top. I have chosen to discuss two of these books, a novel and a collection of short stories.

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Turtle by Gerard Beirne (Oberon Press)

Gerard Berne's novel, Turtle, takes the theme of history repeating itself and puts it into a surreal spin. Turtle is written in tight, poetic prose within a verse-like structure. By the end of the first few pages, the rhythm of the prose had infiltrated my mind and produced a steady, comforting beat underneath the sprawling story of the town named, Turtle.

Turtle has fallen into a cycle of predictability. The folks of Turtle know exactly what will happen day after day, year after year, they know whom they will marry, where they will work and they find comfort in this situation. That is until a mystical stranger named, Rails, slides into town and throws their lives into disarray. Rails, along with other surprises, carries his grandmother's bones in a pack strapped to his back:

"Arrived in with a pack on his back, raised up his chest, breathed down his nose, hitched up his trousers, relaxed his shoulders, fingered the straps, said it contained the bones of his grandmother."

The plot unfolds through the cagey conversations between Nathan Baxter, grandson of the town's founder, and Rails. Their conversations take place at Nathan's house much to the dismay of the rest of the town. Rails, both endearing and grating at the same time, begins to overtake Nathan's life. Secrets unfold forcing a day of reckoning.

This unique novel is an engaging, fascinating read from start to finish. Enjoy.

Meteor Storm by Wayne Tefs (Turnstone Press)

Meteor Storm by Wayne Tefs is a raw, gutsy, collection of short stories. Written in clear, sparse prose the author pulls the reader right inside his character's lives. The collection looks deep into the psyche of tough-minded men, men who finds themselves at their breaking point, characters who resort to their fists to mend their broken hearts. Several of these stories contain sons watching their fathers disintegrate in front of their eyes: a son watches from the kitchen doorway as his father breaks from the loss of his second business; a son witnesses his father's cruelty to his sister; a young man stands by as his beloved uncle confronts his wife's infidelity. In these stories the youth understand beyond their years the sorrow and frustration that has overcome their role models. Collectively they offer insight into the complexity of humanity, for example the son's words in the first story, Red Rock and After, "I remember clearly what I was thinking because it was the first time it occurred to me, though I've thought it many times since. I realized that anyone is capable of anything."

Meteor Storm exposes its characters? darkness, but also their tenderness. In the story, Black Coat, a coat embodies the love between father and son. The coat comes full circle when worn by the son to his father?s funeral. This story has a satisfying sense of completeness. And this sense resonates through the entire book, from start to finish, Meteor Storm is a gifted collection.

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Oakbank, Manitoba author Sheila McClarty's stories have appeared in various magazines, including Grain, The Antigonish Review and The Fiddlehead. She has won first prize at the Sheldon Currie Fiction contest as well as receiving the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book by a Manitoba Author at this year's Manitoba Book Awards for her first short story collection High Speed Crow (Oberon Press).

Categories: Reviews, Discussions, Authors, Night Table Recommendations

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Meteor Storm

- by Wayne Tefs

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Meteor Storm is populated with men--fathers, brothers, uncles--who struggle with the missteps in their pasts and endure, sometimes with resignation, sometimes with a puzzled and angry dissatisfaction, their present lives.Set in the 1960s and 70s, many of the stories in Meteor Storm revolve around Red Rock, Ontario, a mining town where it is never easy come and easy go. The narrators of these 14 tales are in transition to adulthood, where the questions of what masculinity is, or needs to be, in the modern world are at are presented, in stark and often violent ways.In "Sunrise" the calm of an early morning is disturbed by distraught young man bringing news of two horrible deaths. "Walleyes" recounts how a lazy vacation afternoon among friends can devolve to the cusp of violence. And in "Red Rock and After" (winner of a Canadian Magazine Fiction Prize and a Journey Prize finalist) a family suffers through a string of bankruptcies, but retains their optimism about the future.Tefs's writing style is spare, direct, and reflective and he offers a unique view of where hard-edged men crash into the limits of their power.