Can you build a literary reputation on the title of one short story? Gloria Sawai has. In 1975, the Prairies-based author wrote "The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts," a story that makes good on its title's promise. Appearing in nine Canadian and American anthologies over the years, it introduced Sawai's strangely lyrical, humorous, and spiritual voice to small, discerning audiences. Twenty-five years later, she finally had enough stories (including a 90-page novella) to bring out her first book... at the age of 70. And that book won the 2002 Governor General's Award for fiction.
The Jesus-on-the-sundeck story is in this collection, and what a delightfully wry story it is. The first words between the two main characters are:
Jesus: You have a nice view here.
Gloria: Thank you. We like it.
The Gloria character then notes, "Everyone who comes to our house and stands on the deck says that. Everyone." From that laconic Prairie flatness, the story spirals into a Chagall-like magic realism before settling down again with a suburban bump. Not many writers could handle such tricks so successfully.
Most of her stories take place in the 1940s and '50s in the fictional Saskatchewan town of Stone Creek, and the cast that appears in A Song for Nettie Johnson, the long novella that opens the book, keeps reappearing. Sawai's creation of a sense of community is extraordinary, but she brings her individual characters fully to life, too. Certainly, the most memorable is Nettie Johnson herself, the wild woman who lives out of town by the quarry, ostracized by the townsfolk, spied on by the local kids, but so determined to live that she manages to find everything she needs: a man, great music, friendly stones and birds to talk to, and the joy of spelling words. Sawai's is a rare imagination backed up by an assured, steady craftsmanship. She is a wonderful addition to the Canadian writing fraternity.