Sunday, January 04, 2009

Underground Book Club on Rebecca Rosenblum

Michael Bryson, editor of the Danforth Review, reviews Rebecca's Once in a post on the short story on his blog, Underground Bookclub. For the full post go here, but I've copied the section on Once below:

It is not the best of the times and the worst of times for short story writers. It is simply the worst of times. Though for short story readers, hope springs eternal. Regardez Rebecca Rosenblum’s Once (Biblioasis, 2008), a book Beattie called "the most exciting first book of short stories by a Canadian writer since Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades [1968]."

I read this book over the past couple of months. I didn’t want it to end.

Winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award, Rosenblum’s debut consists of 17 stories in just over 200 pages. The dominant theme is youth. The stories are quirky, light, intelligent, funny, well-written, absurd, amusing, insightful, clever, urban, urbane, lovely, contemporary, remarkable – in short, they offer much rewarding reading.

The stories made me remember my twenties with something other than bitterness, which is an achievement, believe me. They made me aware of opportunities of youth that I hadn’t thought of before. What I mean is, Rosenblum has a unique vision, powerful enough to make the old seem new again. She achieves what only the first rank of story writers achieve. She makes the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.

Here’s one moment. Trinity, a pretty girl, says to her friends at a party: "You know, certain people in the sixties thought orgies would have become de rigeur by now, replacing parties like this entirely. Isn’t it weird that after all this time, we’re still repressed? This evening doesn’t even have orgiastic elements."

This is a book about coming of age in the 1990s. It may well be the best book about that experience. I say 1990s, because I don’t think this is a post-9/11 book. The young people in this book are too smart and self-aware not to have noticed that the Bush years were different. Darker. Meaner. They tracked a downward trajectory. The outside world, one hopes, is now harder to ignore. We have left our contemporary Jazz Age behind and have long since taken on new challenges.

I don’t mean to suggest that Rosenblum should have written a different book – or that she should have changed as much as a word. I just don’t think this is a book about our current moment. It seems to capture the anxieties of the young of a period of our recent past, now gone. It is extremely well-written (and edited and published). Cudos to all who had a hand in it. Many are waiting to see what you will come up with next.

The Calgary Herald’s reviewer probably wouldn’t like it, though. Too many subtle moments. Too many well turned metaphors. Too much humour that’s quirky and not slapstick. Too much emotion that’s suggested, not overt. Too many characters bathed in ambiguity, not drawn to represent moral certainties.

Every once and a while someone shows again that the short story form is not exhausted.

Rebecca Rosenblum has done it. Hooray!

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