The Juliet Stories (2)

What she said. I agree with Margaret and her recommendation below of The Juliet Stories based on its many strengths. These include Snyder’s facility with language, especially of metaphor. Her characters are well developed through action and dialogue, interesting to get to know in both sections of the novel.

“In your life there are a few places, or maybe only the one place, where something happened, and then there are all the other places.”                        Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness
(More Quotations under Q in Vicipedia) 

Snyder persuaded me, in The Juliet Stories, Nicaragua is that place for her, even if it isn’t. That’s good, and could be good enough for the GG.

The book raised two questions for me though, the choice of form, and whether the feeling of authenticity came at the expense of the loss of some personal privacy by family members.

The first question can be easily dismissed by saying good reviewers only review what’s in front of them, and I dislike as much as anyone, a review based on the book the reviewer wanted to read rather than the one the writer wrote. As a writer though, I am interested in how The Juliet Stories came to be linked stories or a novel-in-stories. First of all was it a conscious choice, or a matter of circumstance, the stories developing organically?

Read this if you've not, get it on your book club list if you have and read it again.Canada has developed some of the best short story writers in the world, but there currently seems to be a prejudice in publishing favouring the memoir and the novel. The Juliet Stories could have been either. On the other hand Snyder may be ahead of the curve – maybe the short story will gain favour with publishers and readers again because story collections are easier usually to pick up and put down, (in my own experience anyway,) and are better suited the declining attention capability of readers raised on reading online. Flash Fiction, the postcard short story, and telling a story with the fewest number of characters (never mind words) certainly seem to be.

I’ve not yet had personal experience with this dilemma, and have only recently begun writing fiction. What little I know goes back to Sandra Birdsell and Armin Wiebe’s first stories shared in workshop; Turnstone happily publishing Sandra’s first two story collections (and reprinting in one volume later as The Agassiz Stories), while encouraging Armin to move from his linked stories to the novel which became The Salvation of Yash Siemens, still in print after all these years. I’m curious to know if Sandra is writing any more short stories, but has been persuaded they are death in the market, even though her last collection (seems ages ago) The Two-headed Calf  is the book of Sandra’s I most admired and was a critical success. She should have won the GG that year. And David Bergen, any new short stories?

The second question can also be dismissed because it’s the one writers get all the time, and is sometimes seen as down right idiotic and ignorant, possibly both. In this case it would be  “Carrie, you’re Juliet right?” The stock writers response is “I’ve created Julie out of my experience and imagination. But the moment I write ‘I,’ I am not I, but the writer of I.”

I like the old cover better, but this will be of more help in finding it. The second time I was involved at a League of Canadian Poets Conference it was in Winnipeg in the mid nineties where I tried to raise this question as thoughtfully as possible, and still didn’t get it quite right. What are the ethics about using your family,  friends and relatives as source material?  Does source material, people, have a right to expect some privacy. What are the writers’ rights? Can she use  her own personal experience as freely  as she wants, and include family secrets because she knows them? Is the “it’s fiction” or “it’s poetry” a good enough response, and why some fiction is packaged that way, rather than memoir? Or can a writer of a memoir writer use the same defence.  Yes these things really happened, but as I saw them and the minute I write ‘I,’ I am not I……

I hope I’ve managed to enable the comments and would love to hear from writers (including Snyder, who blogs as Obscure Canlit Mama) on both subjects. I will leave both reviews up on the blog for the next week (though with a more tag) and invite discussion. I will then move the reviews and the comments to the recommended reading list.

I’m now reading  Geroge Bowering’s Pinboy, a memoir about raging teenage hormones and working as a pin setter (well most of the time raging hormones). It’s my next review for The Winnipeg Review.


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  1. Victor
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Is this working. test. test. pfft. pfft. 123.

  2. Lynn Chalmers
    Posted October 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Just finished reading Juliet Stories last night. I enjoy “short story” form for the reasons you suggest Victor, its easy to get into and out of . But it was also a distraction – as the book could just as easily have been a novel in two parts.

    I found the writing evocative and enjoyed the engaging shift from abstract thoughts to very tactile events. I was somewhat let down by the ending and the generally dour notes of the second part . I think sweet Juliet had left the story long before the last few pages.

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