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Coming Through: Three Novellas by David…

Coming Through: Three Novellas

by David Helwig

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The Publisher Says: Writer David Helwig's place in Canadian Letters spans practically every realm, from novels, short fiction, poetry, and plays, to essays and reportage. Helwig is one of the generation of writers including Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje to achieve wide critical acclaim and popular following in Canada. Even so, Helwig remains virtually unknown in the United States. Bunim & Bannigan is pleased to present for the first time Coming Through, a unique collection of three tightly crafted novellas of remarkable variety and versatility. These wise, whimsical, and mordantly funny stories by an under-appreciated master writing in his favorite genre are sure to delight American readers.

My Review: I haunt Wikipedia. I like its "Recent Deaths" obituary aggregation feature. I learned of David Helwig's existence from it, and being a CanLit fancying Murrikun, I looked on my county library system's catalog to see what they had. This collection of three novellas made the cut.

I am not surprised Helwig is unknown in the US after reading them. These are excellent pieces, well made, but of the literary world's least popular area: The Quiet Room. There are no pyrotechnics here. Helwig committed the sin of being born male, so he had no natural constituency lobbying for him to receive attention as did fellow short-fiction mavens Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant. I knowingly commit literary heresy when I say this: He's every bit as talented and accomplished a storyteller as either of them.
Perhaps I have never grown beyond my young days, when every attractive young girl was a promise of the paradise garden, when I expected so much, gladdened by an eyebrow, a nose, a hank of hair, a breast, falling in love twice a day, never satisfied.
A great splash of roses...with that self-satisfied air that florist's roses always have, cosmetic abundance, the cryogenic look of a movie star after a successful facelift.
These from The Man Who Finished Edwin Drood
This short work is a uniformly excellent telling of the wages of sin. We are all monads, singular and indivisible units of universal life, for when we are divided, we are destroyed. "Wicked Uncle" (and how quickly that self-description palled!) learns, re-learns, ultimately owns his wholeness as his wronged predecessor dies by him.
Proceeding to some more man-centered prose, I offer:
Now the necktie is growing more unusual...to see three striped ones in this audience is odd almost to the point of that one might consider it ominous. ... Three strips of stripes from the drunken brush of God.
...{L}ife, as we all know, is not a story at all. It is the music of no mind.
I expect that the striped ties will return for the end of the last lecture, as they were here for the beginning of the first. Their pattern of presence and departure is unreadable, but all truth is unreadable until it is the heap of dead facts we call history.
These are from The Music of No Mind
A story that's so deeply sad...a has-been, really a never-was old lecturer in art history delivers three hours of talk over three nights. He speaks about all his hobby-horses, including the rotter whose death got him the gig, who once upon a time stole his wife. Richly allusive, gorgeously pictorial, utterly incomprehensible to one unlearned in the culture of the midcentury & its roots in the Belle Epoque. It badly needs illustrations! The artworks referenced in it won't be familiar to any but those unusually informed about the visual arts.
Finally, these gems:
Moods, the weather of heart and soul.
A vain, foolish man, but weren't they all? Open their zippers and their brains fall out.
Chosen fromA Prayer for the Absent
It is the longest, and to my mind least successful, of the novellas. I wasn't a big fan of Carman Deshane or of Norma; they carry the story, so that's a problem. These two people are well-matched adversaries. Carman's heart is weak; Norma's body got away from her somehow. In the end, they find some end-of-life peace in their sparring. Kind of a modern All in the Family Archie and Edith. I found those two tiresome forty-plus years ago, and their constant bickering was one of the biggest things that shoved me away from regular TV watching for twenty-five years. ( )
  richardderus | Jan 16, 2019 |
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