Sometimes the Review is Longer Than the Story


I reviewed David Arnason’s earliest work a good thirty years ago, so reading his latest collection feels like crossing trails with a long-lost friend. If readers are hoping for recently written material, they might be disappointed: There Can Never Be Enough (Turnstone Press) consists of previously published stories, except for three new ones at the beginning. As it turns out, those first three stories are the best. Besides containing Arnason’s always-welcome humour, they are the most insightful. The premier story, “Getting It Right,” is one in which the narrator recounts a dream. Uncannily, it’s a dream shared by almost all my middle-aged contemporaries, even if the various relics differ: “Lately I have begun to dream of houses with secret rooms that contain artifacts from the nineteenth century, gas lamps and old irons and lockets with pictures of beautiful women carved in ivory. I am unreasonably happy in these dreams, and when I waken from one of them I am desperate to recover it.” When the narrator went on to say that he’d be willing to live his life over, similar to watching reruns on the classics network, I felt relief: I’m not the only one whose life flashes before my eyes on an unexpected but regular basis. From his earlier, selected stories, I find two that are exceptional. “Girl and Wolf” is the type of story Alice Munro might have written, if she’d tried her hand at minimalism. It has the unmistakable Munro theme of two very different beings inexorably drawn together. “Do Astronauts Have Sex Fantasies?” presents a series of questions that pick up where Holden Caulfield left off. Instead of asking how the ducks and fish of Central Park can survive, Arnason’s narrator asks how everything across the cosmos can survive. I tend to classify Arnason’s work, at least the shorter pieces, as prose poetry, with his affable combination of dreamscape, tragicomic monologue and philosophical musing.

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Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits.


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