High Water Mark: Atlantic Canadian Stories 1983-2023 Edited by Lesley Choyce

My not-so-secret literary weak spot is a collection of wistful, traditional stories about Atlantic Canada. Fishing? Logging? Having to work away, small towns with gossipy neighbours, weather obsession, grizzled old people talking about the mine/the mill/the steel plant? This is my heritage for better or for worse, and I want to read about it. Enter High Water Mark: Atlantic Canadian Stories 1983-2023, edited by Lesley Choyce. Choyce explains in the introduction that he has long felt that his life’s purpose was to gather stories from Atlantic Canada, and did publish a number of anthologies in earlier decades, but had not done so since 1983. And so, this collection was born, with a selection of short stories from Atlantic Canada ranging through these forty years.

“a thoroughly enjoyable and comprehensive collection of short stories, showing the breadth and depth of Atlantic Canadian authors, while also celebrating the traditional tropes of the regional literature.”

Choyce is a passionate and careful advocate for the Atlantic Canadian short story. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable and comprehensive collection of short stories, showing the breadth and depth of Atlantic Canadian authors, while also celebrating the traditional tropes of the regional literature. Choyce opens the collection with a story by Alistair MacLeod, “The Tuning of Perfection,” a story from 1983, and one I had read before, but enjoyed even more this time. An old man, isolated from the world in his remote house, is a Gaelic speaker. When a TV crew comes looking for some Gaelic singers to greet the Royal Family, he and his family are invited – but the lack of care for Gaelic and the length of the songs and stories leads him to back out. My short description of course does not do justice to the brilliance of MacLeod’s story, but it gives you a sense of the complicated little worlds inside each of these stories. Choyce’s own story “Thirteen” is a story about the relationship of a young couple, and the strangeness of a dream the young woman has, bridges the gap between the more traditional stories in the earlier part of the book, and the more recent stories, which runs less to type.

“Mr. Manuel Jenkins” by Budge Wilson was a wonderful surprise in this collection, a tender, strange story about the difficulty of being an adolescent girl and the crush she harbours for the handsome stranger who stays with her family for a season. Choyce’s curation of this collection has something for everyone, a brilliant range of human experience and emotion, from the old fisherman to the young person preparing for university. These are the people who make up the region, and they are caught in the snapshots presented by the authors in these stories.

High Water Mark is a lovely collection of stories. Perfect to share with people who want to know more about the literary tradition in this region, and perfect for those of us who want to come home, through our reading. In this collection were old friends and new discoveries, and I had a wonderful time with it.

Lesley Choyce is the author of more than 100 books of literary fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and young adult novels. He runs Pottersfield Press and has worked as an editor with a wide range of Canadian authors. He surfs year-round in the North Atlantic.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (April 3 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990770207
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990770203

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.