Mentionables Reviews by Jay Ruzesky

Us, Now: Stories from the Quilted Collective, edited by Lisa Moore (St. John's: Breakwater Books, 2021). Paperbound, 150 pp., $22.95.

P. K. Page, Metamorphosis: Selected Children's Literature, edited by Margaret Steffler (Erin: Porcupine's Quill, 2020). Paperbound, 232 pp., $22.95.

Patricia Robertson, Hour of the Crab (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 2021). Paperbound, 248 pp., $22.95.

David Adams Richards, Darkness (Toronto: Doubleday, 2021). Hardbound, 294 pp., $36.95.

Us, NowThe Quilted Collective is a racialized group of writers brought together, as Lisa Moore explains in her introduction to this collection, by mandate of the Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism of Newfoundland and Labrador, which commissioned Moore to offer a series of writing workshops with a view to creating a book. From this inorganic genesis comes a collection of stories that works remarkably well to highlight diversity in Newfoundland writing and also to offer perspectives on being an immigrant somewhere other than Toronto. What is perhaps surprising, given the relative inexperience of some of the writers collected here, is that the quality of the work is consistently high, and there is a wonderful diversity of writing styles, from Prajwala Dixit’s “Ondu Nenapu,” which is composed as a series of short, poetic prose pieces, to Sobia Shaheen Shaikh’s intense, secondperson story, “Softly, With Niyyat.” The voices collected in this fine anthology introduce a powerful company of storytellers to the rest of the country.

MetamorphosisA collection of works for children by P. K. Page might at first seem a stretch. One could argue that even her works “for” children, such as her trilogy of fables, The Sky Tree, are also meant for an adult audience. But for Page the idea of childhood, as Margaret Steffler points out in her excellent introduction to this book, is a state of being that represents curiosity about and wonder for the world, and that sense is something that unites the work here. The book is organized around genre and this helps highlight the many ways that Page did write for and about children. So we get the fables and stories that were published first as illustrated children’s works, and also an essay by Page on folk tales, and, wonderfully, a set of one‐act plays for children that Page wrote when she was involved with the Theatre Guild of St. John in the 1930s. Metamorphosis is the sixth volume of a larger project of the Collected Works of P. K. Page by Porcupine’s Quill and an excellent addition to the set.

Hour of the CrabThis masterful collection of stories makes an immediate impression because of the quality of the writing. Patricia Robertson’s language is memorable, and she writes with a sure‐footed immediacy using tested narrative tools to get the reader’s attention. The first story, which gives the book its title, begins: “Kate, walking along the beach, found the body.” Before long, though, we realize that we have surpassed the “murder‐mystery” genre and are into something more compelling and human. “Fire Breathing” is set in British Columbia in the near future when the “fire season” doesn’t end and forests continue to burn in November and on into March. Rather than preach about climate change, however, Robertson invests us in a story about an aging firefighter whose wife is about to have a baby and leaves us wondering about the future the baby might inherit. Other stories subtly raise timely issues of lost language, refugees, and migration, and do so with cinematic strokes of brilliance.

DarknessDavid Adams Richards is a profound voice in Canadian writing, partly because his darkly vivid style and his careful observations of human fallibility remind us of the great Russian writers of a century ago, and partly because he has so firmly rooted his stories in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick as to give the place a kind of life for outsiders. His latest novel, Darkness, is an examination of blame and the need to hold someone accountable, even when the evidence is uncertain. The narrative structure of the book seems at first an odd choice. The novel opens with an announcement about a symposium on a report by John Delano which was aimed at “rehabilitating the memory … of Orville MacDurmot,” and the first chapter gently shifts into the story of the day that Delano sat down with Cathy MacDurmot, Orville’s sister, and told her the results of his report in person. That talk is the rest of the novel and the choice to deliver the story to readers as a conversation creates a passive and distant sense of the reveal of events. It feels like the device ought to frame a more direct, third‐person telling of the story, but such is not the case. Richards takes a risk with this approach because narrative tension builds slowly in Delano’s telling of the tale. For the dedicated reader, though, there are great rewards as Richards takes us deeper into the complexities of the case. By the time we are nearing the end, the book’s pages turn swiftly.

—Jay Ruzesky

As in The Malahat Review, 217, winter 2021