The Winter 2017 issue of subTerrain provides a change of perspective through its Canadian west coast view of fiction, poetry, commentary, art, and book reviews. The subtitle, “Strong Words for a Polite Nation,” piques the reader’s interest, but it may depend on where the reader is sitting. As a Michigander, I can vouch for the politeness of our Canadian neighbors. And, yes, some of this most recent issue will offend some readers, but aside from an opinion writer who believes four-letter words add shock value, there is only a poetry collection that might take someone aback.
Many of the pieces contain settings that may be unfamiliar to a reader “south of the border,” but they should be a great lesson to anyone interested in the idea of cultural diversity, at least in their exposure to literature. Canadians often have a much clearer idea of their cultural and ethnic history than Americans, and this adds a great flavor to the works found here.
The nonfiction in particular speaks to that variety in such pieces as Madeline Sonik’s “Queasy,” where we find a young girl connecting to her mother’s post-war history:
I can see, when she turns, that her eyes are glinting. She will never acquire the taste or aptitude for the kind of tailored history my uncle savours. She will never be able to recall a place, time, or person who has touched her, without some emotional keel. My uncle’s reminiscences seem to be a tedious collection of reruns to her.
Similarly, the imagery in Trisha Cull’s “Gaslighting” takes us through the troubled journey of a young woman struggling to achieve control over her own life:
But I begin to feel better. It feels like I am being pulled—as if by osmosis—from misery into contentment. The shift is inexplicable and abstract. How do you just start feeling happy one day? There is no clear explanation. The blur of my existence solidifies, its angles and edges become more defined.
While the nonfiction is certainly the strongest aspect of this collection, the fiction works of Brent van Staalduinen and Karen Hofmann introduce us to events and perspectives that are most notable. The poetry of Adrienne Gruber and the prose poems of Eve Joseph intrigue us with new topics and shared feelings. The fact that most of the collection consists of contest winners certainly does add to our enjoyment.
Equally entertaining, however, is the collection of book reviews, which provide an opportunity to select from a broad variety of new literature. Not only are the reviews longer and more interesting than usual, but also they cover subjects—fiction and non-fiction—that we might not routinely come across. These include Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa—a seventh century Chinese adventure, and Dirty Kids: Chasing Freedom with America’s Nomads by Chris Urquhart.
For a touch of drama, there are the “Found Micro Dramas” by Charles Tidler:
(Government Street HOT DOG VENDOR to a passerby.)
Vendor: No, sorry, but my signage is not an insult to your ‘saviour’ Jesus Christ.
The word is ‘savour.’ (He spells it out.) What you do eating a hot dog.
A very nice ‘extra’ is the artwork. The illustrations by Andrea Bennett not only make the cover intriguing but also add welcome breaks and commentary throughout the journal. This issue reinforces the color with the winning entries from the “colouring contest” issue. These are a great way to make the reader part of the art rather than just an observer. Overall this issue of subTerrain is as much a fun piece as it is a contribution to the intellect.