As I read this issue of Grain, a quarterly from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I kept flipping to the back to find out who the writer is: how was it possible that I had never heard of this person, and that person, and the editors who have eyes for such great, sensitive, and unassuming writing? With one story and poem after another, this issue of Grain made me miss my train stop on the way to work, gasp, and wonder. I’m very, very excited to have discovered it and now to tell you to read it, too.
The issue’s theme is “Home-Myths,” which seems to have engendered more stories of being away from home and visions of home, rather than of home itself. The narrator in Molly Lynch’s “Patron Saint of Lamborghinis” works as a cook in an oil rig camp. She sets the scene economically: “I was one of the nine females in a camp of over two hundred men.” There’s no way you’d stop reading after that, is there? And indeed it is not possible to stop, for what follows is lovely and perfect, a voice that reminds me of Jane Eyre. (The sonic and psychic resemblance clicked into place for me even before the narrator had disclosed her name, halfway through the story.) The story ends—to continue the analogy—at where Jane Eyre was sure that Mr. Rochester would marry Blanche Ingram. Lynch juxtaposes the delicacy of the narrator’s feelings with the bleak landscape and the vulgarity around her, and both she and we are left, inevitably, a little bruised. The fine supporting cast adds an uncommon depth.
Roam and Hoof, the main characters in Kristyn Dunnion’s “Fits Ritual,” presumably lost their homes some time ago: they are homeless men who team up to eke out a living by stealing. Hoof ends up losing more. Dunnion never descends into sentimentality or sensationalism about the homelessness or Hoof’s eventual loss. She also has a perfect pitch for the rhythm of speech. This is Hoof talking about a nurse at a homeless shelter:
She takes piss, blood, all the pathetic details of my reject life, gives me big science in return. She puts me on a joyless regime once she figures out what I got. The biopsy at St Mike’s is the worst. If you ever think your insides hurt, try letting some white-coated goon stab you with a sinister needle. You’ll know pain like a lover then.
There’s a touch of resignation (“the pathetic details of my reject life”), contempt for the book learning and mainstream society that may have rejected him when he was younger (“gives me big science,” “white-coated goon”), and wit (“you’ll know pain like a lover then”). Hoof is a pleasure to listen to, and Dunnion a pleasure to read.
The quietest and most ordinary-looking poems in this issue hide little knives for the heart. “Redneck Bar” by Mark Lavorato rolls in easily with straightforward complete sentences and plain language: “I was not enjoying myself.” He watches three women dance in a bar, and it becomes a
Glimmer of something so inspired
it’s worth raising a glass to
The part of our story
so good, so far
It’s wistful and cocky at the same time: well, is it going to keep on being good, and what is he going to do to make it happen?
In dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s “Homesick,” the prairie home is beautiful (“The faded light, gone / pale as your grandmother’s mauve apron”), but its stillness is marked by “the knife-edge / grind of routine” that “brings you crashing / to your knees.” It’s the edge that shows up in routine anywhere, in a prairie or in the city, and almost certainly at times in the home.
John Creary’s “NSFW” is a little different: like most things that are NSFW (Not Safe for Work), the fun is all over the place. The sexy, the everyday, and the double-entendres ride next to each other in the back of the white car, without pandering, and with just the tiniest hint of titillation.
Don’t miss, either, Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt’s chronicle of “The Twelfth Year” of her life, shuttling around the Middle East as a child of a UN staffer; Catherine J. Stewart’s two poems, both about a childhood with ducks, both brimming with loss, or resignation, or missed opportunities, it’s hard to know what; and the complex gazes of the people in Eliza Griffiths’s drawings, never quite directed at the same place.
It’s all very fine work. Read it, Google the writers, and then read some more.