Running the Whale’s Back

It’s a great title isn’t it? It’s actually drawn from one of the stories in the collection, Samuel Martin’s story, and it’s a perfect fit. You’ll see why, when you read the introduction to the colection.

Running Whales Back

Goose Lane Editions, 2013

From the opening pages, readers realize that the anthology’s editors have done their homework. The stories included in this anthology have been previously published, so it’s possible that even random readers who are well acquainted with the fiction of Atlantic Canadian writers might have previously read all of these tales.

But the introduction reveals that the editors possess a broad familiarity with and passion for the literature of Atlantic Canada which extends beyond the pages of this collection.

Not every story in the collection is discussed in detail and, yet, the introduction mentions some works and authors which are not included: the territory is vast.

And readers who enjoy the idea of new terrain opening up on the page will appreciate the sense of having a curated collection to explore with the intimation that there are countless other volumes waiting in the wings.

Readers who are likely less to pick up a collection of stories when there is a novel at hand will be pleased to discover the work of many novelists herein as well.

The collection begins, for instance, with a story by Michael Crummey (whose Galore made my list of favourites for that reading year).

His lyrical prose nestles up with the like of Sheldon Currie’s story, which contains a series of haunting images, including a young widow on her bed juxtaposed with a broken man on a hospital gurney.

This is not, however, simply a collection of stories in which characters sing ballads and drink, against a backdrop of mill whistles and ocean waves; masses and denunciations abound. This is a collection rooted in faith and doubt.

Even this, however, is not a theme easily defined. In Joan Clark’s story, readers discover that what someone might interpret as a mark of salvation is another’s mark of damnation.

Sometimes there is overt religiosity in a story:

“Stones had been changed to potatoes in Saint-Joseph-de-la-Mer! It needed to be published in the Diocesan News. A Subscription should be taken up to build a Cathedral, just like in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.” (Clive Doucet’s “Miracle Potatoes”)

Sometimes not:

“Longing is nothing but the candle flicker of thought, of an absence, a faith that cannot be sustained, which will erode into the gravel of any relationship. Love is not ignition of gasoline, but the slow turn of bone to oil. He knows this and yet he longs with a desire as large as any conversion.” (Michael Winter’s “Stay the Way You Are”)

Sometimes, something in-between:

““I’m not a great theologian and in those times you weren’t going to win anybody with reason. But I was a pretty fair scrapper in my day, so I coasted on that and tried to use it to advantage.” (Michael Hennessey’s “The Priest and the Pallbearer”)


“She lifts him up and the nest sticks to him, then falls into the water and begins to float downriver. The bottom of the nest is missing, which makes it look like a crown of thorns.” (Deborah Joy Corey’s “Discovery”)

This is not a theme which would normally draw me to a work, but GooseLane’s reputation overcame my own doubts on that count; in that sense, you might say they have given me reason to reaffirm my own personal belief system, a belief in the power of story.

Have you been reading short stories of late? Would you add this collection to your TBR?



  1. Vasilly May 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I would have passed this book up for the cover alone, but if you enjoyed it, I probably will too. 🙂

    • Buried In Print May 15, 2014 at 8:43 am - Reply

      I think you’d appreciate the flavour of the collection: such a variety of approaches to the theme.

  2. Sandra May 10, 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

    This appears to be a great collection of CanLit and I am really looking forward to delving into a copy. I will also check Steph’s blog for the Sam Martin review: I have not read any of his work. Thanks to both of you.

  3. Steph May 9, 2014 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I’ve wanted this book for a long time! It sounds excellent! I’m very excited by the authors in it. Have you read Sam Martin’s This Ramshackle Tabernacle? There’s a review on my blog if you want to know more. His novel, A Blessed Snarl, is good, too. I look forward to his next work.

    • Buried In Print May 9, 2014 at 10:42 am - Reply

      It would make a great addition to your short story reading sessions. I haven’t read TRT but I see that I added it to my TBR in 2012, so your review might be behind that. I’m always so disheartened to discover an oversight like that, to realize just how many books are lost on that TBR until someone, like you, brings them back onto my reading radar. Trick is to now find a copy before I lose track again, right?

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