“The collection consistently does what the oeuvre does best: communicate intense emotion with force, give life to characters that struggle with their circumstances, illuminate the universal through the specific and the particular, and turn the commonplace into art.” Globe and Mail
“[The anthology] amuses, astonishes, and enlightens; it is a delicious cacophony of voices and engaging stories . . .”Books in Canada
The Journey Prize Stories is Canada’s most celebrated annual fiction anthology, presenting the best stories published each year by some of our most exciting up-and-coming writers.
Among the stories this year: Desperate to reinvent himself, a disgraced diplomat on what will be the last assignment of his career goes in search of a woman from his past in Eastern Croatia. As a teacher begins to unravel in the aftermath of a school shooting, a series of surprising encounters with her former students reveals their differing degrees of resiliency. Bench presses and Wonder Woman comics create an unexpected intimacy between a teenager and her Ukrainian-language tutor, a former female champion weightlifter. After his junkie uncle moves into the basement to hide out from his dealer and get clean, a lonely boy’s longing for a male role model threatens to lead him astray. When a famous author finds himself embroiled in a sex scandal while on his book tour, he discovers the only person he has left to turn to is his handler, a woman with secrets of her own. Cultural tradition gives way to modern-day Japanese efficiency when a long-married couple attend a meeting of Concerned Parents of Unmarried Offspring, a speed dating event for parents in search of spouses for their adult children.
The stories included in the anthology are contenders for the $10,000 Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. The winner will be announced in fall 2010.
From the Introduction
Writers select their most polished short stories to submit to journals. From what they receive, the journals' editors choose what they feel are the most surprising and gripping stories to publish, then winnow those published stories again to find those they consider most worthy of inclusion in a national anthology. That's when the packages show up in the Journey Prize jury's mailboxes – this year, filled with seventy-two nuanced, deeply imagined, and sharply written pieces of short fiction.
What a pleasure to read so many stellar explorations of a challenging literary form. What an education, too. And what a terrifying challenge to look at what the best literary editors in Canada consider the best stories, and to try to choose the best of those. The pleasure and education far outweighed the terror, but still it was daunting. Brilliant short stories can be brilliant along any number of metrics – realism or strangeness, elegance or blunt simplicity, tight plotting or sprawling authenticity. Comparison is fraught and dubious at best. All we can do, whether in the role of judge, teacher, or simply happy reader, is to consider what the writer was trying to achieve, how well he or she succeeded in that goal, and how excited the reader is about that success.
One terribly exciting success, in our opinion, is "The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale" by Daniel Griffin. This subtle and complicated story of art, love, and lust moves forward on the grim trajectory of death, but also draws haunting life from its central character, Skylar, and his admission to himself of all he truly feels, and longs for. His son's illness renews their relationship and their uneasy intimacy, full of envy, rivalry, and fierce affection for beauty. Griffin has taken on considerable challenges in portraying the working lives of artists, and has done so with amazing, and heartbreaking, force.
Adrian Michael Kelly's "Lure" is also a story about a father and a son, but Kelly's is an altogether different art, full of the simple intensity of a child's observation. Kelly doesn't trouble the reader with anything but the moment as the boy sees it. The drama inheres in a child's anxiety over pleasing his father, over the life of a frog, and the taste of a sandwich. Although "Lure" does have a climax of adult pain, it is the boy's perceptions and tensions that dominate, and it is to Kelly's infinite credit that this seems not a limitation but an illumination.
To continue with family stories, Sarah L. Taggart's "Deaf " is told from alternating perspectives of a mother and her young daughter, both missing a sense of so many things in their lives. The glittering percision of Taggart's language allows for both the humour of children bickering over ketchup and the quotidian tragedy of adults ground down by both hope and disappointment. Taggart never diminishes her characters' lives of canned tomatoes and Hungry Hungry Hippos, nor does she lionize them or excuse their bad behaviour. She just achieves that incredible literary summit of bringing them to life.
The gift in all of these stories lies in the adage of showing rather than telling. Particularly rich in this regard are those stories that immerse us in specific histories or geographies, making setting integral to and inseparable from the events and emotions of the characters.
Yasuko Thanh's "Floating Like the Dead" takes us into a little-known and painful chapter in Canadian history. Here, the few remaining inhabitants of a turn-of-the-century colony of Chinese lepers off the coast of b.c. spend the last of their days clinging to something as futile as hope. The limits of language, racism, and poverty have already defined their immigrant lives. Their alienation becomes complete as their bodies rebel and repel, and they are exiled to die in isolation. They must use their declining strength to battle a rugged geography they cannot beat. The forest is primeval and eternal and the western breezes across the Pacific can only remind them of the China of their youths. Thanh strikes that difficult balance between depicting bigger worlds and worlds within, and uses the resonances between the internal and external to subtle and graceful effect. This is a story of brittle beauty, which gives as much room to the unspoken as the spoken.
In "Highlife," Paul Headrick similarly addresses imminent death, the silences that precede it, and the sounds that surround it. A husband and wife, together for twenty-six years, become unglued from each other in the face of the husband's illness and the anger that consequently possesses him. He is a lover of music – an academic, a radio host, and a critic – making a pilgrimage of sorts to Ghana with his wife. He is looking to hear highlife music in its original context – buoyant life-affirming sounds – but he and his wife are largely silent companions on this trip; there is little he is compelled to voice aloud. Against the heat and confusion, the dancing bodies and the music, his life – and her life in relation to him – are coming to a painful end. In this case it is the contrast between internal and external worlds, the disconnect between them, that gives the story its poignancy, isolating the characters from each other and the world around them.
Excerpted from The Journey Prize Stories 21 by Edited by Camilla Gibb, Lee Henderson, and Rebecca Rosenblum. Copyright © 2009 by Edited by Camilla Gibb, Lee Henderson, and Rebecca Rosenblum. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
Camilla Gibb, Lee Henderson, and Rebecca Rosenblum
ADRIAN MICHAEL KELLY
(from Prairie Fire)
(from Grain Magazine)
(from Exile: The Literary Quarterly)
The Wisdom of Solomon
(from The Dalhousie Review)
(from The New Quarterly)
Floating Like the Dead
(from Vancouver Review)
SARAH L. TAGGART
(from The Malahat Review)
On the Line
(from PRISM international)
Picturing God's Ocean
(from Grain Magazine)
The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale
(from The Dalhousie Review)
About the Authors
About the Contributing Journals
Previous Contributing Authors
The Little Black Classics feature works by Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Milton, Nikolay Leskov, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Glaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Samuel Pepys, Washington Irving, Henry James, Christina Rossetti, Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Boccaccio, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas de Quincey, Apollonius of Rhodes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Petronius, John Peter Hebel, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Guy de Maupassant, Aesop, Joseph Conrad, Brothers Grimm, Katherine Mansfield, Ovid, Ivan Turgenev, H. G. Wells, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Nashe, Mary Kingsley, Honoré de Balzac, C. P. Cavafy, Wilfred Owen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Giorgio Vasari, Friederich Nietzsche, Suetonius, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Dante, Henry Mayhew, Hafez, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Ruskin, Pu Songling, Jonathan Swift, Walt Whitman, Kenko, Baltasar Gracián, Marco Polo, Matsuo Basho, Emily Bronte, Richard Hakluyt, Omar Khayyam, Charles Darwin, Catullus, Homer, D. H. Lawrence, Sappho, Virgil, Herodotus, Shen Fu, and others.
About Camilla Gibb
Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and grew up in Toronto. The first person in her family to earn a university degree, she holds a B.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford. While researching her thesis, she spent a year living with a family in the ancient walled city of Harar, Ethiopia.
After returning to Canada, Gibb spent two years at the University of Toronto as a post-doctoral research fellow. She probably would have continued in academia were it not for a chance encounter that enabled her to pursue her longtime dream of writing fiction. One day, a friend of a colleague caught her moping on a bench. After hearing about her frustrated desire to be a full-time writer, the man asked how much she needed to support herself while working on her first novel. The next week he showed up with the amount she had quoted: $6000. At first she refused, but he convinced her that it was just another form of scholarship, no strings attached. Gibb’s brother lent her his trailer, where she wrote on a laptop plugged into a small stove. Mouthing the Words, which poured out of her in just eight weeks, sold internationally and won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000. Her second novel, The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life, was also published to great acclaim around the world and was selected by The Globe and Mail as one of the Best Books of the Year. In 2002, Gibb was named by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize as one of 21 writers to watch in the new century.
Gibb’s third best-selling novel, Sweetness in the Belly, was shortlisted for the 2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Gibb explains that she experienced two major challenges in writing this story. For one, she had to move beyond her thesis, which she describes in a Toronto Star interview as “this dry, boring thing with all the blood and the life sucked out of it.” She adds: “Everything that had moved me had been expunged – all the intimacies and the relationships that I longed to write about.” She was also forced do a major rewrite when she turned the main character from a child into an adult. Of the 400 pages she originally submitted to her editor only five made the final cut. “I was relying on the charm and naïveté of a child,” she said in an interview with The Ottawa Citizen. “But at some stage I knew I had to grow up as a writer, and my characters have to grow up too. Added to that was more responsibility – I had to take a stance, have an opinion, be informed.”
Camilla Gibb lives in Toronto, where she serves as Vice President of PEN Canada and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a new novel about a community bound and defined by an unnamed illness that is stigmatized, feared, and misunderstood, and how the outside world responds to the perceived threat of an epidemic of unknown origin.
About Lee Henderson
Lee Henderson is the author of the award-winning short story collection The Broken Record Technique. He is a contributing editor to the arts magazines Border Crossings in Canada and Contemporary in the UK. He has published fiction and art criticism in numerous periodicals and co-organizes Father Zosima Presents, a monthly night of sound performances where he lives in Vancouver, B.C. His first novel, The Man Game, won the BC Book Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
About Rebecca Rosenblum
Rebecca Rosenblum is the much-talked-about first-time author of Once. A finalist for the Journey Prize in 2007, she lives in Toronto.