Best Canadian Stories 2021, edited by Diane Schomperlen

I was excited to receive a copy of Best Canadian Stories 2021 from Biblioasis for several reasons. First, I love the short story format. Secondly, I was happy to see that Diane Schomperlen was editor, as she is someone who writes a good short story herself. Thirdly, this is the fiftieth edition of Best Canadian Stories! Yes, it has been around that long, and Ms. Schomperlen has had her stories in several issues over the years, as she informs us in her introduction. As for the introduction itself, I recommend reading it, because if you skip it, you’ll miss why she chose some entries that you may come to question.

“I wanted stories that took risks—in voice, language, time, character, subject matter, point of view, form and structure, plot or the lack thereof.” — Diane Schoemperlen, Editor

And there are risky choices here, such as Elise Levine’s “Arnhem”, Joshua Wales’ “Lightness” and Joy Waller’s “Shinjuku for Stray Angels”, just to name a few I thought were beyond the pale of mainstream short stories. At any rate, there are fifteen stories in this slim (under 190 pages) volume which make it just a little larger than a regular edition of The Fiddlehead literary journal.

There are some gems here, notable “Downsizing” by Colette Maitland, which also was awarded the Metcalf-Rooke Award for 2021.

“Downsizing” was the inevitable choice because of the deep pleasure her pyrotechnic handling of language gave us. She delivered to us intensely realized characters and events through a dazzling verbal performance of great sophistication.
Language was the winner as we hope it will always be.
“— John Metcalf and Leon Rooke

“Downsizing” is the perfect Boomer story about a couple that has been together for ages and who have stayed together for financial reasons only it would appear. Babe, unable to work cuts and pastes obituaries from the newspaper into a scrapbook. Curt, has just gotten over cardiac surgery and begrudgingly puts up with Babe’s passive-aggressive (and oftentimes just plain aggressive) attitude fueled by Curt’s past peccadilloes.

One other story I will highlight is Don Gillmor’s “Dead Birds” the story of Liz who works in the rare books section of the Reference Library. Liz is married to Bennett and they have a child. Bennett appears satisfied to bring home a paycheque and do little else around the house. The baby is totally Liz’s responsibility.

Her marriage wasn't a disaster. She was neither unhappy or happy with Bennett. Their lives were rote, and the explosion of having a child had settled into a new roteness. It had fallen to her, all those feedings, the changing of clothes, the lulling to sleep, the buying of formula and toys and diapers and finding daycare. Bennett managed to seem helpful, but in fact he wasn't. Motherhood had isolated her somehow, a surprise. That you bring another life into the world and it made you feel more alone.

This briefest of stories has a lot to tell and is full of observations about a young marriage already settling into the Curt and Babe of “Downsizing” mentioned above.

See also  The One We Forgot to Love by Sandy Totten

It would be a thrill to own all fifty copies of this series just to see how the Canadian short story scene has evolved over the years. For these pandemic times, Best Canadian Stories 2021 makes for some great escapist reading.


About the Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Diane Schoemperlen has published several collections of short fiction and three novels, In the Language of Love (1994), Our Lady of the Lost and Found (2001), and At A Loss For Words (2008). Her 1990 collection, The Man of My Dreams, was shortlisted for both the Governor-General’s Award and the Trillium. Her collection, Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures won the 1998 Governor-General’s Award for English Fiction. In 2008, she received the Marian Engel Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. In 2012, she was Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. She lives in Kingston, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964359
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964357
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