Monday, June 22, 2009

Mavis Gallant, Montreal Stories

Summer reading is good, but what about summer listening? Rattling Books offers unabridged audio books, including Gallant's Montreal Stories, a collection of stories set in a Montreal that is geographically, if not socially recognizable. By that I mean the stories are steeped in their time and that has long passed. But the streets are the same, and the longing, and the human dynamics immediate. Looking forward to the new stories, but can't recommend these classics enough. Like Munro, Gallant gets away with enormous amounts of exposition. Why? Because she is a master of the sentence, aware of her twisting in it, and lovingly structured, each of them. Now, I'm wondering when Rattling Books is going to be available through iTunes because I definitely want more.

Also on the must-read list for the summer, Going Ashore, new stories from Gallant. And what about those selected letters I hear about? That will be interesting. Gallant is, like Elizabeth Smart, a writer Canadians can't quite come to terms with. She's not nice in the way we seem to want our writers to be, not nice enough, not predictable enough. She has opinions. You can't quite guess what she'll say next.

Don't believe me? Here are a few random comments I found on line. This first from a piece on her in Walrus:
Her name elicited high regard in both Canadian and American settings. But across the board, there was comparatively little in the way of particulars. “I love ‘The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street.’ It was in an anthology. I really should read more of her stuff.” “I enjoy her stories. They used to come in the New Yorker all the time, years ago. But I never knew what to make of them by the end.” “Gallant? Oh yes, she’s one of those writer’s writers...”
More from random places, blogs:
"I kind of don't like Gallant, but don't tell her that."
--Toronto writer
"She carries into every encounter a reputation of ruthlessness, of one who doesn't suffer fools at all — gladly or otherwise."
--part of excerpt chosen by BookNinja from a globe piece.

Here from the Toronto Star:
Neither a Leon Rooke, a Glover, an Atwood, nor a Mavis Gallant made the list. (The latter name is not as surprising an omission as it may seem – Gallant being one of those writers whose work is universally respected and admired, yet which nobody – be honest – really likes.)
Here's John Metcalf on Gallant via Steven W. Beatty:
"Alice Munro’s career has been more visible but many readers and writers think that Mavis Gallant’s rather cold eye and stringent intellect will age better.."
Also from Steven W.Beatty, Alex Good who thinks the latter description of Gallant is “dead on:”
“I respect Gallant, but that cold eye, the way she seems to despise so many of her characters, puncturing their selfishness and snobbery in disdainful, ironic prose (a bit of the New Yorker house style?), gets to me.”
Here, thankfully, in response to this, a comment:
  1. Janet | August 27, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    It baffles me that anyone would complain about Mavis Gallant’s lack of humour. I recorded and edited her Montreal Stories for Rattling Books and often laughed aloud while working on the tape. As for cold, I was impressed by her humanity. She knows how utterly ridiculous people can be and pokes merciless fun at it all while eliciting compassion. Far from cold.

Is it fair to say gender is somewhere at the root of this? I would think. It seems quite acceptable to couch any discourse around Gallant in terms of her person, her perceived person. Imagine framing discussion of Ondaatje, Carver, Ford, Richler, that way?

And by the way, the Montreal Stories audio book from Rattling Books makes a round trip from Toronto Montreal downright manageable. It's about 11 hours of listening.


Don Share said...

By coinkydink, I took this book of Gallant's stories with me to Rotterdam last week! I was fascinated...

Lemon Hound said...

Did you enjoy the stories or find the narrator cold? Overly masterful?

Shawna Lemay said...

I've been meaning to look for Transient Questions edited by K. Gunnars. You've reminded me.

Don Share said...

I enjoyed the stories, and didn't find the narrator cold or "overly masterful" at all. She is quirky, though, that's for sure; maybe for some readers her style (her world?) just take some getting used to. Though this won't turn out to be one of my favorite books in the world, it was well worth spending time with.