Although the Journey Prize is now synonymous with the idea of quality short fiction in Canada, not everyone realizes that the prize was established out of James Michener’s donation of his royalty earnings from his 1988 novel Journey.
Michener’s novel was set partly in northwestern Canada, but the stories in this year’s Journey Prize anthology claim settings as diverse as a futuristic Paris and contemporary EastVan, Mauritius and Japan.
Miranda Hill, Mark Medley, and Russell Wangersky travelled far in reading the 81 stories submitted for consideration this year.
It’s easy to imagine the appeal that a story like Naben Ruthnum’s “Cinema Rex” might hold for juror Miranda Hill, as the level of detail reminds me of the complexity in her “The Variance”, published in Sleeping Funny (Random House, 2012).
And the urgency with which a story like Steven Benstead’s “Megan’s Bus” might attract juror Russell Wangersky, whose stories in Whirl Away are often compelling and disorienting in equal parts, also seems evident.
And the draw of such dramatically different tales as Natalie Morrill’s “Ossicles” and Doretta Lau’s “How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?” for a reader like Mark Medley, whose editorial work requires that he turns more pages than most, approaching a variety of voices and styles on their own merits: perhaps that’s to be expected.
But one aspect of the collection which is consistent throughout is the shrewd use of language and imagery.
Whether a bruise tilted like a jewel (Philip Huynh’s “Gulliver’s Wife”), red lip gloss that makes a mouth into a hard candy (Doretta Lau’s “How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?”) or a plethora of origami cranes (Eliza Robertson’s “My Sister Sang”): there are many striking details in the collection.
(Honestly, by the time I reached the third story, I was overwhelmed by some of the lyricism in the prose. It all seemed too clever, too brilliant, too too too. What a delightful “problem” for a reader to have.)
“Whole swathes of pavement have come untied, sidewalks once ribboned into four-way intersections, ravelled now with seams exposed, ragged hems no longer travelled by bicycles, sedans, wandering feet.”
Laura Legge’s “It’s Raining in Paris”
“Marty came down out of the mountains in early March, trailing a string of bad decisions.”
Andrew Forbes’ “In the Foothills”
And, this: ”The child had a thought like a nail through the sole of her foot, stuck.”
Natalie Morrill’s “Ossicles”
And that was just the first three stories.
No wonder the jurors commented as follows: “This is not a yes or no judgment on new careers as a whole – for all of us, what mattered was that the talent in the individual stories was humbling.”
Thematically there are some interesting convergences: the difficulty in establishing new friendships (Marnie Lamb’s “Mrs Fujimoto’s Wednesday Afternoons”), the challenges of evolving relationships (Zoey Leigh Peterson’s “Sleep World”) and the unexpected intersection of needs (Amy Jones’ “Team Ninja”).
There are sudden and creeping disasters (Laura Legge’s “It’s Raining in Paris”, Eliza Robertson’s “My Sister Sang” and Steven Benstead’s “Megan’s Bus”).
And collisions between past and present (Andrew Forbes’ “In the Foothills” and Jay Brown’s “The Eqyptians”) come to both literal and metaphorical blows.
Whether sharp-tongued or juicy, whether beautiful or relentless, there is something for every reader in this collection.
From a mattress store to storm sewers, from a bus driver to a film critic, the stories in this year’s Journey Prize anthology are memorable and readable.
If one of your new year’s read-o-lutions is to read more short fiction, The Journey Prize 25 is a must-read for your year.
Contents: Laura Legge’s “It’s Raining in Paris” (The Malahat Review), Andrew Forbes’ “In the Foothills” (PRISM Interational), Natalie Morrill’s “Ossicles” (filling Station), Philip Huynh’s “Gulliver’s Wife” (The New Quarterly), Amy Jones’ “Team Ninja” (Prairie Fire), Marne Lamb’s “Mrs. Fujimoto’s Wednesday Afternoons” (The Dalhousie Review), Steven Benstead’s “Megan’s Bus” (Grain), “Naben Ruthnum’s “Cinema Rex” (The Malahat Review), Jay Brown’s “The Egyptians” (Prairie Fire), Doretta Lau’s “How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?” (EVENT), Zoey Leigh Peterson’s “Sleep World” (The New Quarterly) and Eliza Robertson’s “My Sister Sang” (Grain).
Have you been reading some short stories lately?