Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fiction: Going Ashore by Mavis Gallant

To say that Going Ashore (Douglas Gibson Books/McClelland & Stewart) may well be the most important work of fiction that will be published in Canada in 2009 sounds like hyperbole of the highest order. And, actually, it pretty much is. Yet immerse yourself in Mavis Gallant’s world. Read these 31 stories -- some of them never before published intact in book form -- and try to imagine anything finer.

This is the writer that Fran Lebowitz has called the “irrefutable master of the short story in English,” and whom Michael Ondaatje said was one of “the great short story writers of our time.” Even the uninitiated won’t find it difficult to understand the praise. For the passionate reader, Going Ashore is pure pleasure. For the writer, it is that and education, as well. This is some of the very best work of a writer whose career spans over 50 years.

Douglas Gibson, who has published Gallant in Canada since 1978, tells us that Going Ashore began to take shape when Gallant let him know that not all of her short stories were still in print.

“Intrigued,” he writes, “I encouraged her to compile a list of the ‘missing’ stories, and promised to publish them. She was delighted, and asked me -- in a typically direct way -- if I could bring the book out before she died. We are such old friends that I felt able to answer with another question: ‘What are your plans in this regard, Mavis?’ She laughed, and started to make research enquiries.”

And so it is that, in Gibson’s words, he was able to publish a collection “that will delight [Gallant’s] admirers, who will find that, at eighty-six, she is able to bring out a book of distinctive yet unfamiliar stories that are full of surprises.”



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