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Likely Stories: A Postmodern Sampler.

Likely Stories gathers twenty-three examples of Canadian postmodern fiction bracketed by two short essays (one by each of the book's editors) on what postmodernism may be. Contributors include David Arnason, Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand, David Bromige, Matt Cohen, Brian Fawcett, Timothy Findley, Douglas Glover, Claire Harris, J. B. Joe, Eric McCormack, David McFadden, Alice Munro, bpNichol, Leon Rooke, Gail Scott, Carol Shields, Susan Swan, Audrey Thomas, Lola Tostevin, Mildred Tremblay, Jane Urquhart, and Sheila Watson. One wonders about certain absences (for instance, W. P. Kinsella, Robert Kroetsch), but one also knows that reasons having nothing to do with editorial desire often occasion such omissions. At any rate, the twenty-three contributors included here offer a satisfyingly diverse collection of recent work that honors Hutcheon's conviction that one hallmark of postmodernism is its "refusal to create a . . . neat explanation of what the postmodern might be."

Ten or so years ago when I was smarter than I am today, I knew exactly what postmodernism was, but the older I get the vaguer and more vexed the term becomes. However, reading through these stories returns one to certain salient features: a collapsing of genre distinctions and a calling into question of simple notions of "realism"; a rejection and/or dissection of "universal" or "value-free" cultural beliefs and aesthetic conventions and a corresponding foregrounding of the politics of race, class, and sex; antiauthoritarian, reader-as-cocreator open-endedness; self-conscious, self-deflating acknowledgments of defeat in the face of fiction's exhaustion, a defeat that nevertheless gets said those things authors too "modern" and too "post" to say innocently intend to say anyway. Bowering describes the collection as in toto "slightly postmodern," and it is true that many selections seem fairly conventional examples of minimalist realism, sci-fi, genre parody, or metafiction. At times "postmodern" seems mostly a synonym for "contemporary" or an alternative way of saying that the canon has been opened to formerly neglected voices. Generally speaking (though there are notable exceptions), Likely Stories suggests that Canadian postmodernism is closer to Jamaica Kincaid that to Gilbert Sorrentino, to David Hockney than to Anselm Kiefer.

The anthology's multicultural focus should bring a number of Canadian writers previously unknown in America and elsewhere to readers' attention. Although such focus will limit the book's use here in college classes, Likely Stories would make a fine addition to any course intent on coming to grips with international postmodernism.
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Author:Horvath, Brooke
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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