Volume 10 Number 4.
The thirty-year-old protagonist of "Man Descending," the title piece in Guy Vanderhaeghe's collection of stories, recalls "paging through one of those gossipy newspapers that fill the news racks at supermarkets" and coming across a disturbing article about an infant prodigy in eighteenth century Germany. Reading the Bible at eighteen months and teaching himself Greek and Latin at three, the precocious youngster was dead at four. When he recalls the article a few years later, the protagonist is terrified because he sees in the child's life a familiar pattern:
His life, like every other life, could be
With the exception of the wonderful first story, "The Watcher," and perhaps the last story, "Sam, Soren, and Ed," these small masterpieces trace with the sensitivity of a seismograph the latter half of the familiar pattern: man descending.
Not that the stories are depressing. If the protagonists are losers, they are (to borrow Cohen's phrase) "beautiful losers." Beautiful because of their insight, their tenacity, their philosophical vigour.
It will not take you long to get hooked. In "The Watcher," eleven-year-old Charlie has been banished to Grandma Bradley's farm. The summer promises to be dull. Charlie feels like a captive, rather like "Stanley the rooster. . .who spent his days tethered to a stake by a piece of bailer twine looped around his leg." Eventually boredom gives way to frustration, and Charlie picks a fight:
The heat, the sultry menace of the gathering
I was angry myself. I turned him upside down and
"Okay, Stanley," I said, feeling the intoxication
This pugilistic misadventure between two frustrated "watchers" not only marks the climax of the story's sub-plot, but also anticipates the solution to the story's larger problem—how Grandma Bradley can get rid of a pair of unwanted beatniks who are eating her out of house and home.
"The Watcher" is a powerful story, and once you've read it and the other eleven stories in this wonderful collection, you will want more. With Man Descending, thirty-year-old Guy Vanderhaeghe has launched what will surely be an exciting career as a major Canadian writer.
Boh Kinczyk, Central Elgin C. I., St. Thomas, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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