Book Review: <i>The Journey Prize Stories</i>

The Journey Prize is a $10,000 award presented annually by the Writers' Trust of Canada and McClelland and Stewart.

The way it works - Canadian literary mags and journals submit stories for consideration (their motivation, $2000 if they bring the winner), the judges (this year - Steven Galloway, Zsuzsi Garter and Annabel Lyon) read them and choose the shortlist - this is where the book comes in - then (later) the winner is announced.

The nature of the lit mag and journal scene means that the writers contending for the prize are up and comers (touted as future noms for the GGs and Giller prizes).

This is great for the writers - it gives them exposure, not to mention republishes their story to a greater audience than they probably would have had in a single literary journal. For readers, we get a potpourri of new Canadian voices.

The verdict?

Well, I may be unintentionally unfair, because while reading the stories, I also started on M.G. Vassanji's When She Was Queen, and as smart, inventive or daring as the Journey stories may be, none can compete with the elegance of Vassanji's craftsmanship. (Review to come later).

The collection as a whole reminded me of the stories I read in my creative writing class at university - the advanced one, for sure, where people understood narrative and character development and everything, were unafraid to try new things, yet still didn't have that je ne sais quoi of a truly accomplished storyteller.

The scope of the collection is broad - there's a nice variety of styles and narrative, some more traditional, some downright absurd (Baby). Upon finishing the book I am already forgetting some of the stories, but there are those that definitely stick with me.

Highlights include, Cretacea, the humourous tale of a gun-toting maniac, and Wrestling, an incisive and insightful picture of 3 generations of women. And Baby, because I love the absurdity of it.

There are some nice moments and interesting ideas, and in a collection of this nature one can't expect any kind of thematic cohesiveness. It lends itself best to picking up and putting down, one story at a time.

Handily, at the back of the book with the author bios are also short paragraphs detailing what they were aiming for with the stories. My recommendation (since short stories are a quite delicate matter of taste) - pick it up, flip to the back and see if anything tickles your fancy.

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