Dig by Terry Doyle

There’s been a recent burst of imaginative fiction writing coming out of Newfoundland, and Terry Doyle’s collection of twelve short stories has been eagerly anticipated since he won the Percy Janes First Novel Award in 2017 for Union, an as-yet unpublished manuscript. Dig is what I would refer to as “contemporary fiction” in that it deals with the here and now, not the past and certainly not the future, for Mr. Doyle’s characters don’t really have any reason to look further ahead than tomorrow. While the stories are written in a stark, very true way, they are not raw or offensive by any means; just slices of life in the day-to-day reality of struggling, out-of-work, looking-for-work, issue-laden denizens of a city.

“While the stories in DIG are written in a stark, very true way, they are not raw or offensive by any means; just slices of life in the day-to-day reality of struggling, out-of-work, looking-for-work, issue-laden denizens of a city.”

I’m going to be up-front and say I wasn’t overly impressed by Dig. While I cannot find any fault with Mr. Doyle’s writing style, it had more to do with the brevity of the stories. I couldn’t help but feel they were written with Millenials and Gen Next-ers in mind whose short attention spans do not allow them to be away from their smartphone screens for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. In fact, I read Dig in a few hours.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy any of the stories. Quite the opposite, I found several to be to my liking including Hammerhead, about a man with a small after-hours vendetta against vehicles blocking sidewalks and Keeping That are You? about a man who inventively strives to make enough money to keep his truck payments current and support him and his wife (who scolds him for bringing some of the junk he collects home).

The next day Ryan got a call from a man who said he had a load of furniture and trash he needed taken to the dump. Among the furniture there was an antique-looking lamp. When the man wasn’t watching, Ryan laid the lamp on the floor by the gas pedal. There was also an old painting with a hole through the center. He tucked it between two end tables so it wouldn’t get damaged. The frame was still good.

The man came out of his house carrying two dining chairs. The bed of the truck was full. Ryan opened the passenger-side door and laid the two chairs in. The man spotted the lamp.

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“Keeping that, are you?”

Ryan closed the door and removed his hat.

“I don’t care,” the man said. “Keep what you like, just get rid of the rest of it.” He handed Ryan two twenties and two fives.

With his “finds” the ever-enterprising Ryan rents a table at a flea market and sells the items he keeps.

Although I may not have been enthralled by Dig, many readers will love the stories and while it is written by a Newfoundlander and the stories are set in St. John’s, they don’t have a strong sense of place. They could be set anywhere, really. I’m adding Dig to my Summer Reads category.

“The stories in DIG offer assured, evocative, loving renditions of the gritty, everyday world of work and family, but are so deftly and delicately written they seem to float.”— Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins and winner of the Guardian First Book Award

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.

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