Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Running the Whale's Back: Stories of Faith and Doubt from Atlantic Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Running the Whale's Back: Stories of Faith and Doubt from Atlantic Canada

Article excerpt

Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris (eds), Running the Whale's Back: Stories of Faith and Doubt from Atlantic Canada (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2013), 304 pp. Paper. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-86492-913-6.

In the introduction to this short story collection, one of the two editors, Andrew Atkinson, defines the book's purpose in the following terms: '[w]ith great ambition we set out to represent the depth of engagement that Atlantic authors embrace when writing about religion and spirituality' (p. 17). Scouring the region for stories on this topic must have been a fascinating task and a challenging one too. (Not because there are too few brilliant writers who would qualify, but rather the opposite.) The result is a formidable collection of short stories composed by exquisitely talented writers that succeeds in capturing a great spectrum of viewpoints. Perspectives range from religious fanatics, like the young female protagonist in Clark's Salvation, to figures who have become tremendously embittered through years of abuse by a specific priest, like the middle-aged central character in Hennessey's The Priest and the Pallbearer. What makes this short-story collection distinctly Atlantic Canadian is not so much the prevalence of fish as Atkinson points out in his introduction, but the pervasiveness of water, be it the Atlantic Ocean, the Saint John River or the unnamed creek in which little Frances baptises the newborn babies. Water is not only one of the leitmotifs in the texts; it also frames the entire book as a part of the uncanny black-and-white cover image by David Blackwood.

The tones of the stories differ greatly - from humorous (Miracle Potatoes) to reflective, (Miracles, Rupture), even desperate (Riding the Whale's Back) and outright macabre (Two Crosses, Cave Paintings). …

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