#53 – Where is the Voice Coming From?, by Rudy Wiebe

I read The Temptations of Big Bear several years ago as part of a course on contemporary Canadian literature. I was struck by Wiebe’s formal experimentation and his deft, original approach at dealing with aspects of Canada’s history that can be uncomfortable for many contemporary Canadians to acknowledge. It was a delicate, graceful book, and I’d squeeze the word “accomplished” in there somewhere if I could figure out how. So I was definitely looking forward to his 1974 follow-up book of short stories, Where is the Voice Coming From?. Turns out it was pretty terrible. Wiebe does not excel at the short story form at all. There are a few piece like “Scrapbook” and “Tudor King” that read like they were intended to be poignant coming of age tales about children dealing with the harsh realities of mortality in the prairies, but instead they are empty, amateurish scraps of narrative that confuse being sombre with being serious. “Millstone for the Sun’s Day” looks like it could be a utopian/dysptopian science fiction thing, like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, but it just flat out doesn’t make sense. Wiebe uses so many fictional titles and euphemism that the result is just kind of a vague sense of some kid doing something on a boat and some old man being displeased about it. “Did Jesus Ever Laugh?” falls into nearly every serial killer or insanity stereotype in all of literature (with the exception of the killer not being gay), and was boring to boot. In fact, of all thirteen of these stories, only and handful were worth reading at all, and only the title story actually stands out as memorable. And that’s mostly just because it’s a short version of the kind of thing he did in Big Bear.

Where is the Voice Coming From? was my third book for The Canadian Book Challenge, and my final book of 2007. I will begin my Reading 2008 project with Steve Zipp‘s novel, Yellowknife.

August

Writer. Editor. Critic.

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