Let us consider that not-quite form, the literary excerpt. The excerpt is by definition a truncated thing. It faces its readers, as it were, stripped of its party clothes, its beginning and ending often having been sheared off. This is no small matter. Writers labour mightily over beginnings, hoping to seduce readers. As for endings, they are the readers’ pay-off, for it is here that a story’s revelations, if any, are most apt to be felt. You would think that robbed of such vital plumage, the excerpt would be a bird that could not fly—and yet it often does, as habitués of literary readings can attest.
This rare anthology of excerpts, each preceded by a short essay on the work of the author, was issued in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the “Brown Bag Lunch” reading series, sponsored by the Canadian Literature Centre at the University of Alberta. The reason for collecting excerpts rather than full selections would seem to be to make space for the essays, since the editors say in their introduction that they aimed to avoid the “decontextualization” they believe happens in other anthologies. Some of the selections are straightforward and might be helpful; others, it seems to me, will do little to deepen engagement with the work for students or common readers.
Multiple genres are represented in the collection, and authors are diverse in terms of geography, background and concerns. Four of the writers are from, or recently from, Edmonton, and all are fine choices. Lynn Coady, now living in Toronto, is represented by a story of father–son conflict, the son being a self-styled “punk” and the father a man who cannot abide this particular species of teenager. Caterina Edwards’s memoir deals with the difficulty of unearthing the past, especially in a region in which Italians and Croats have always been “them and us” and where the author’s Italian cousin refuses even to call her grandson by his Croat name. Marina Endicott offers a vivid portrait of Hugh, a man tired of responsibility, who even in his dreams hears a voice saying, “It’s all up to you, Hugh.” Alice Major’s deft poetry, set in an Edmonton office tower, suggests that it helps, when dealing with an office groper, to have an assistant from Mayan mythology at hand.
Taken together, the selections in this sampler constitute an impressive showcase of talent—but it must be said that most leave the reader wanting more. An excerpt does not constitute a complete meal, even if it makes a fine appetizer. The real reward will come to the reader who seeks out more complete samples of the work of the gifted writers presented here.
—Merna Summers is an Edmonton writer. #