Artist Comes into Own in Early Short Stories

Winnipeg Free Press, May 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Artist Comes into Own in Early Short Stories


It is difficult to write about this new collection of short stories by Montreal-born Peter Behrens, deserved winner of the 2006 Governor General's Award for his epic novel The Law of Dreams.

For those who know the novel, Travelling Light, which is really a gathering of his first book of stories, 1987's Night Driving, with more recent ones, shows that Behrens has taken great leaps as an artist since their writing.

Not that any of them is really bad, but, to use Behrens' favourite metaphor of driving, and the journey, the author often spins his wheels, or runs out of gas at the most interesting point.

It's a rocky journey from Montreal, a city he knows well, but can't quite convey solidly, to the West, where his imagery is more imaginative, but often the stories are near clich©.

Behrens was once a screenwriter, and he is not afraid to say that he wasn't a successful one. The best and worst of the screenwriter's trade are evident in the use of striking images, framed, for the most part, in not quite convincing stories, which one can imagine on film, but who knows how a director might make them work?

Behrens also straddles the American-Canadian border: though he lives in the States, his obsession is Canada, the country he can't get away from by simply driving. This tension is interesting, but, again, blunted.

Some of the 23 stories are, to be sure, strong, especially the ones on the various troubled relationships of fathers and sons. A Cup of Tea is the best of these.

It is impressionistic in feel, and within its three pages is all the rage, love, despair, impatience and guilt one feels at the relentless aging and eventual dying of a loved one.

"The dying man's voice is missing here. What about it, Dad?" the story's protagonist asks. …

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