W. P. Kinsella Short Fiction Analysis
W. P. Kinsella said that his storytelling skills resulted from growing up in an oral tradition. He and his Yugoslavian grandmother swapped stories, hers set in the hills near Dubrovnik, his in rural Alberta. Through this process, he learned to entertain by making his listener eager to hear what will happen next. Kinsella is a serious writer who sees the writer’s first duty as entertainment and thus makes his characters less cynical and angry than he is. He considers himself a realist who does not believe in magic, yet many of his stories are tall tales or fantasies. While his fiction is sometimes sentimental, it is nevertheless effective because of the compassion that he feels for characters confronted by the absurdities of a seemingly meaningless world.
Kinsella calls his short, surrealistic stories “Brautigans” because of the influence of writer Richard Brautigan on his life and career. According to Kinsella, whose favorite book is Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar (1968), “Brautigan’s delicate, visual, whimsical, facetious writing appealed to a whole generation of us who were able to identify with the gentle, loving losers of his stories.” Typical of Kinsella’s Brautigans is “Syzygy,” about Grabarkewitcz, a European immigrant to Vancouver whose cat sleeps in the bathroom sink and disappears down the drain when its owner is shaving: “‘Cats are independent devils,’” said Grabarkewitcz. ‘They never come when you call them.’” The Brautigans are Kinsella’s most self-consciously literary stories, a fact that he acknowledges in “The Secret” by having Grabarkewitcz confess to the crime of “bookfondling.”
“The Book Buyers”
One of the longest and best of the Brautigans is “The Book Buyers,” which satirizes his native country’s eccentricities. The narrator wonders why, if most Canadians seem chained to television sets or computers, statistics show that they are buying more books than ever before. Finding himself in Toronto, he decides that this is the perfect place to investigate this phenomenon since “as we all know, there is nothing either west or east of Toronto.”
Going to the only bookstore in Toronto that sells books by Canadians, he spots a typical Canadian reader: “He had a bottle opener and ski lift tickets attached to the zipper of his parka.” The customer buys $102 worth and says he has to deliver them somewhere. The narrator eventually discovers that the books go to a warehouse, where they are shredded and recycled as packing cases by the government to keep the book business alive. He threatens to make the practice public unless at least one book he has written is included in each pickup. He describes the boxes containing computers and video cassette recorders as representing “the essence of Canadian literature.” “The Book Buyers” is typical of Kinsella’s satire since instead of becoming angry over Canada’s neglect of its writers and his compatriots’ general antiintellectualism, he turns the whole matter into a benign joke.
“Evangeline’s Mother,” one of the best of his realistic stories, deals with typical Kinsella subjects such as loneliness and class differences. The ambitious Henry Vold goes to work for a savings and loan company after high school, meets Rosalie on a blind date, and impregnates and marries her. Rosalie, who lives for the moment, leaves the dull Henry for a service-station attendant when their daughter, Carin, is a year old. Henry remarries, choosing someone like himself this time—Mona, a financial analyst—and they have a son as practical and unadventurous as they are.
Carin becomes a rebellious, promiscuous teenager and comes to live with Henry when Rosalie can take her behavior no longer. Henry loves Carin uncritically, forgiving her anything. Mona warns him that Carin cannot be trusted and is manipulating him. Despite himself, Henry is attracted to Carin’s exotic, vivacious friend Evangeline. He is...
(The entire section is 3,180 words.)