Prolific Miramichi author Wayne Curtis, whose most recent collection of fictional short stories was In the Country (2016, Pottersfield Press), has just released a new collection entitled Homecoming: A Road Less Travelled (2017, Pottersfield Press). The book’s thirteen stories, many interrelated, contain the idea of returning to a place either one has escaped from or returning to in order to make amends with those from the past:
“it is like I have to return to that place to see how much of my past was real and how much was an illusion, and if either is still there.” (from “At Mount St. Joseph’s”)
The bulk of the stories centre around two couples, Sean O’Reilly and Amy Black, and Floyd Harris and his wife Beverley. With the exception of Beverly (who is from Massachusetts), all the principal characters in the stories are from the Miramichi. Their lives begin either on the farm or as in the case of Sean and Amy, an orphanage in Bradford (aka Newcastle). There is a definite progression to each story, although it is not always chronological in order of events. As in the case of Floyd and Beverly, the stories start with their move from the USA back to the Miramichi, then the next story finds Floyd, years later, hitchhiking out of town with only a suitcase and a duffle bag. What happened in the interval? Patience pays off, for Mr Curtis does not leave us wondering for long!
Reading Wayne Curtis
Reading a Wayne Curtis short story (or one of his many novels, for that matter) is a singular experience, one to be relished and not quickly dispensed with. The beauty of the short story format is the economy of any elaboration and how the author can make us envision places and characters in as few words as possible. While Mr Curtis is not a stark, “bare bones” style of writer, the wordage is sufficient for the ideas and thoughts to be conveyed in a comprehensive manner. Mr Curtis is an unquestionably masculine writer in the manner of David Adams Richards, but with a more resolute, nostalgic outlook on life and events. Mr Curtis’ storytelling “voice” is a deeply resonant one, reminding me of the sound of the baritone saxophone earnestly playing a ballad, or as Sean says in “Brothers and Sisters”:
“my cigarette-coarsened voice was deep, as I said a few words that could have come from the lips of Orson Wells or William Conrad”.
These stories are from a time when downtown Newcastle was a bustling place, for it was the main shopping district of the Miramichi in those days before the advent of malls and highway driving to Moncton to shop at Costco. Travel was by bus or train (“It was the link to fulfilling my dreams” says young Jack in “The Train”) between the scattered communities for those not able to afford a car (or cars).
Some Favourite Lines:
- “…some people do this; they overpower the lover’s freedom to choose.”
- “…once in a while she loved me, but mostly I loved her, in the way that it’s easier to love than be loved.”
- “It’s funny how time can help smooth over a potential career opportunity, which is a soul builder, but not a broken heart, which is a soul destroyer.”
- “…that first love which men carry inside them for the rest of their lives. We are all wild geese in that regard.”
- On ageing: “I have had one near stroke and a near heart attack. it appears like everything is near these days.”
As you read through the stories, you’ll discover that Mr Curtis also excels in descriptions of the weather:
- that time in the season when hailstones drive out of a raw sky like pellets being shot at you.
- the willow trees drank up the moisture and gave birth to rabbit paws of new hope – furry buds, white along black stems – that tossed about like beads of jellybeans, bitter in their taste but sweet in the scent of spring.
- the straw fields were brought to life by a stiff wind and the big choppy river, so dark a blue, lapped against the frozen marshes where quills of ragged cattail buckled down to the earth.
I was totally fascinated by each and every story, setting aside the book only to contemplate a thought about something I had just read. These stories will likely be best appreciated by long-time Miramichiers, but they have a timeless appeal as well, for relationships have not really changed from an internal perspective, only the external forces have evolved, and all the old ones (money, mental illness, employment) are all still there too.
Homecoming may well be the best work to date of Mr Curtis, at least in this reviewer’s estimation. Perhaps due to his age (he is in his mid 70’s now) he has a more soulful and deeper intensity behind his thoughts. This reader is getting older too and can relate more to looking back than looking forward most days. At any rate, Homecoming represents the best in the short story format from one of Canada’s most underrated writers.
Homecoming can be purchased in various stores in and around the Miramichi. It is also available at Amazon.ca.