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Stories' poetic prose create a tapestry of intimate moments

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2014 (2118 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Accomplished writer Matt Rader's new book of short stories entitled What I Want to Tell Goes Like This marks the Kelowna author's move from poetry, a genre in which he is celebrated, to prose.

It's evident in this collection of 15 stories that he has not moved far from his poetic beginnings; many of his stories feel like heavily edited prose poems that leave the reader feeling a bit short-changed. However, the best of them recall the hazy expression of a dream or a memory that can only be articulated in flashes.

What is clear is that Rader's talents for examining intimate moments, which he does expertly in his poetry, transfer easily to this collection.

The stories in What I Want to Tell Goes Like This weave well-drawn places and moments in time together in order to create a unique tapestry of human experience. Set predominantly in B.C.'s Comox Valley, Rader's collection tackles issues of violence, labour unrest, death, love, the loss of that love and sexuality. The longest stories in the collection concern labour strikes in the valley in the early 20th century, the legacy of which heavily informs the motivations, behaviours and destinies of the characters who inhabit the more contemporary stories.

The Children of the Great Strike, Vancouver Island, 1912-1914 tells of two young girls who are affected by the coal strike. Packed with numerous characters and historical anecdotes, the story begs to be made longer. Similarly, Grand Forks, 1917 introduces the reader to Albert Goodwin, a union worker and advocate, and Peter Vasilevich, a communist activist on the Prairies. Their meeting is awkward and stunted, but loaded with the legacy of immigration and the making of contemporary Canada.

Like many of the stories in the collection, these two most of all seem to be busting forth from the constraint of the short story, and from Rader's economical writing style.

This collection won't be for everyone. It has a remarkable fascination with masculinity, and with emotional, physical and sexual male violence against women and other men. It may be that Rader is attempting to trace the history of this violence, to explore the culture in which it is permitted to exist and even, in some cases, be fostered. But because many of his stories construct singular moments in time without much exposition, this important context is lost.

At the Lake, in particular, is a 2 1/2-page story that recounts the sexual assault of a woman by two men from the perspective of one of those men. If Rader is attempting to create snapshots of life without commentary or analysis, he has accomplished it devastatingly accurately here.

There are passages of Rader's book that cannot be underestimated, and moments of thoughtful poignance in his text that are packaged in stunning descriptive language. Bearing the Body, a story of a son taking care of his father during the last days of his life, is Rader's most beautiful accomplishment of this collection. It has the intentional economy of Hemingway, with the vulnerability and sensitivity of Alice Munro -- and yet there's something very particular to Rader's sensibility and sense of place that is unmistakably his.

Rader's attention to detail and his passion for the cataloguing of historical moments are obvious, and make What I Want to Tell Goes Like This a valuable addition to Canada's vibrant short-fiction canon.


Katelyn Dykstra Dykerman is a PhD student in the department of English, film and theatre at the University of Manitoba.


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Updated on Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 8:27 AM CDT: Formatting.

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