Grade 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
If it were really possible to buy a life, I'd pass, thank you just the same. This one's already too much.
BC writer Michael Kenyon has won many literary awards for his previous works, and Durable Tumblers certainly adds to his lustre as a writer. The protagonists in this short story collection try valiantly to make sense of the predicaments life throws at them but often manage only to endure. The author finds little cause for joy.
"Angels in Cities" is the story of West Coasters Les and Anne, who travel to Lethbridge every autumn to prepare Anne's Uncle Hugh for the winter. Their relationship is fragile at times, and a quarrel develops when Les accepts money from Uncle Hugh. When Les inadvertently witnesses the robbery of a shop through a deliberately-broken window, he promises himself that he will send Hugh's money back and tell both his wife and her uncle about the theft. The title refers to Uncle Hugh's story of young peasant girls in China committing suicide so that they could become angels, such as those they had seen in cities. The bizarre juxtaposition of angels in China and ordinary human beings in Canada is intriguingly suggestive. What can readers make of it? We are left to ponder.
By way of contrast, "Chaste" depicts Glynis Tilley Arnason as she calmly faces the fact that her reliable husband Piet is inexplicably missing. Their daughter and son-in-law are in a panic but Glynis is remembering the renewal of her love life with Piet "after years of abstinence" and appears almost unconcerned about his uncharacteristic failure even to phone. Eventually Piet's body is found - he has died of natural causes. Sheila, their granddaughter, has drawn a picture of her Grandpa; Glynis notes that the "eyes are just right." The mood of acceptance is sustained against the background of fear and grief displayed by other characters.
In a connected story "Salvage," it is Glynis' seventeenth birthday and family members are coming to the party. Clarence is being driven by his wife, Sandra, who is to help with the party preparations. Clarence gets out of the car before they reach their destination, ostensibly in order to jog, but in reality, to meet his lover, Patrick. A parallel narrative concerns a suicide victim, Judy, and a murder victim, Nadine. They meet and converse at length under the water of the lake into which each body has been thrown. It is made clear that Clarence has killed Nadine and is worried that the police may appear at any time. The contrast between Glynis, in her youthful innocence, and of Clarence, deep in double subterfuge, contrasts sharply with the fantasy of the two dead women deep in discussion in the lake.
In the stories in Durable Tumblers, readers are taken into each world with an intensity that leaves them shaking and wondering. There are many questions to be asked; the answers are theirs to discover. Senior students will be intrigued by this collection; younger, less experienced readers are more likely to be bewildered.
Katheryn Broughton was born in the prairies and taught high school English and library skills for nineteen years in North York, Ontario. She has edited a book of short stories (entitled Heartland) for senior students. These days she writes about old houses for the historical society newsletter (which she edits) in her home town, Thornhill, Ontario.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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