Outcrops - By Laurence Steven

Previously unpublished

Outcrops: Northeastern Ontario Short Stories
Edited by Laurence Steven
Your Scrivener Press
ISBN: 189635016X
$22.00 Canadian

The very presence of the anthology Outcrops suggests that there is a distinctive voice within fiction, that when considering fiction which is from Canada or even Ontario, you can parse it out more specifically to the region of Northeastern Ontario.

Although I am a writer with roots in the Sudbury area, I was a little skeptical of that distinction when I first picked up the anthology.

I’m not now, though.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

While the stories and characters, the struggles and personal conflicts contained within this anthology are true of any good short fiction, and can take place anywhere, there is also something truly unique about them together as a whole that will certainly leave the reader with a distinct sense of place.

Good literature can take a reader out of their present environment and into any setting. And Outcrops, which contains 20 stories by acclaimed, established and emerging authors, is no exception to that rule. In the same way that John Grisham’s fiction often captures a true sense of the Deep South, the writers within this anthology do the same thing for Northeastern Ontario in terms of both setting and character.

I was no more than three stories into the collection when I started to detect a subtle pattern, a living and breathing essence within the tales. It was partly the subject matter that each tale concerned itself with, partly the setting of each story and partly the characters they were peopled with. That sense of place, particularly of Northeastern Ontario, had announced its presence and wouldn’t let go.

Even when I finished the book, it still wouldn’t let go. Something about the characters and setting particularly still linger, like the fond memories of a weekend spent with old friends.

In the collection, I was looking out over the high bluffs on the Eastern coast of Manitoulin Island, I was canoeing through the crisp clear waters of a sprawling freshwater lake, admiring the spectacular and dizzyingly high rock faces that, in my childhood, I took for granted. I was sitting in a diner with some locals during the breakfast hour listening to snippets of their conversation, I was resting quietly on a front porch, rocking slowly and listening to the mingling of the creak of my chair with familiar small town gossip, I was pulling the scarf and collar tight to my neck trying to keep out the cold bitter and dry winter air, paying a silent homage to the shafts of chimney smoke rising straight up from the houses I walked past, my shadow long and steadily growing in front of me in the snow.

A great example of the way in which this anthology’s authors establish a clear sense of place can be seen within Margo Little’s tale “The Watcher” in which she writes: “But summer is just a vague memory for some of us. In January, time stands still. The smoke from the wood burning stoves curls lazily into the air, ice shacks dot the bay and bodies hunger for light. We watch for the desolate days to lengthen, for the depressing darkness to end.”

There are many other great tales in this collection, not a single one lacking that distinct sense of place and character that Laurence Steven was looking for when gathering them together. Some of the moments that stick out most poignantly with me are Daniel Daylight and Mr. Tripper sitting in the “Indians Only” section of a restaurant in Thomson Highway’s “Hearts and Flowers”, the goats beard “trees” in Eric Moore’s “Seelim’s Flowers” the partially toothless Calvin Smith and the antics he stirs in “The Winning Ticket” by Barry Grills and the snapshot portraits of Charlotte in Susan Eldridge-Vautour’s “Still Life With Feet.”

The lyrical and simple magic of Heidi Reimer’s “Magellan” which tells the tale of the meeting between a music industry minion and a resistant bush tromping musician is a fitting tale near the close of this collection. It illustrates distinctness and differences between Northern and Southern Ontario; but it also finds a way to bring the two worlds together in a moving and memorable way.

Though I try to return as often as I can, I no longer live in Northeastern Ontario. But the anthology Outcrops has given me the distinct sensation of being back home again. And it’s a good feeling. A warm feeling. A very welcome feeling.

And so, having truly enjoyed this collection, I can announce my conversion, my belief. I can declare that there is such a thing as Northeastern Ontario fiction and Laurence Steven has managed to capture its essence wonderfully in this brilliant collection of short stories by some very talented writers.

If you doubt this, go out and pick up a copy at your favourite local book shop or order it online and see for yourself. But bring a scarf, because that cold northerly wind carried in the voices of its writers might catch you unawares.


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