My rating: 9/10. Strong, vivid and eloquent. “Beautifully crafted” and “Powerful” may have become clichéd descriptions, but they apply in their most sincere sense to these punchy short stories.
From the back cover:
Christian Petersen beautifully reins in the confusion and displacement of a diminishing band of men facing the daily spectre of an unforgiving land, men enslaved to the grind of the sawmill, hunkered on bar stools, high in the saddle of a John Deere, or wild behind the wheel speeding down dirt roads to the Fraser. Here are fathers, brothers, lovers in search of forsaken children, bygone loves, and memories long faded in the wash of fast-running streams and firelight. Here are the unpardoned, raging against what they might have been, what they are now, and where their paths have led them. Yet Petersen’s characters hollow out a quiet dignity, gentle in the silent truth that they are small in the face of pain – and of change.
Regional literature set in areas familiar to the reader is difficult to view in perspective. I find that I am often so caught up in nodding in recognition of places and people that a crucial distance is hard to maintain in attempting to judge merit of story and style. And this is a very local collection of stories, by a writer who closely shares my own experience of time and place in his formative years, growing up in Quesnel in the 1960s and 70s, leaving the Cariboo for a time, and eventually resettling in Williams Lake, where he has worked (is still working?) as a probation officer. He is obviously a keen observer of local “types” – they are instantly recognizable – but he looks past the superficial surface of the stereotypes to the turmoil within.
A quotation on the opening page gives a clue to the content within:
If a story is not to be about love or fear, then I think it must be about anger.
- The Look of the Lightning, The Sound of the Birds ~ Diane Schoemperlen
Love, fear and anger are all represented here in their deepest intensity.
A very readable collection of stories, definitely for British Columbians familiar with the Cariboo-Chilcotin settings, and with a broader appeal to universal emotions which should resonate with readers everywhere.
- Heart Red Monaco ~ Two unlikely friends search for some kind of meaning in their treading-water lives.
- The Next Nine Hundred Years ~ Vignettes of “working at the mill.”
- Horseshoes ~ Two brothers: rivalry, conflict and resolution.
- Come Evening ~ A day with one of the fringe-dwelling “troopers” of Williams Lake.
- Scout Island ~ From her house overlooking the nature reserve, a horse trainer deals with “getting by”, and a troubling situation initiated by her young son and her elderly great-aunt.
- Country Boys ~ The brutal world of the high school bully, his victims and, ultimately, his tormenters.
- Taseko ~ A boy goes moose hunting in the Chilcotin with his father and his father’s friend.
- Let the Day Perish ~ Life, love and death on the ranch.
- This is How It Is ~ A divorced father yearns for his young daughter.
- Thibeau’s Crossing ~ Betrayal changes everything in a peaceful valley.
- Charity ~ A sincere Baptist Church minister gives in to passion with far-reaching consequences.
- Men’s Wear (after a fashion) ~ The venerable owner of the town’s “upper crust” men’s wear store is challenged by changed times, and undergoes an epiphany. Great ending note to this collection – left me smiling. Nice to quit on a high point; some of these stories (though not all) were dark.
Petersen has also written a mystery novel, Outside the Line (2009), and another collection of short stories, All Those Drawn to Me (2010). He is currently working on another book, a novel. I will be watching for it. Keep an eye out for this author. This first collection is excellent.