I’ve written many times before about Ivan E Coyote and how very very good her stories are (they are very very good). I recently made my way though this collection as a set of nighttime reads. You know how usually you can only manage four or five pages in bed before falling asleep? Well this collection is perfect because no story clocks in at more than six or seven, each one is a contained little gem and you go to bed satisfied that you’ve explored something rich and deep without having to dive too far. I suppose it’s like wading to your ankles in the time it takes, but still discovering a submerged treasure. The subject matter is quotidian, the narration a matter of fact first person, and yet it somehow manages (and I suppose it should be my task here to figure out that “somehow” and explain it, but like watching a magician, I’d rather not look too closely at Coyote’s magic for fear of having the whole thing spoiled) to unsettle/resettle the taken-for-granted. Magical!
My first introduction to Ivan E. Coyote came in the form of a Christmas gift from K. when she gave me Bow Grip and Closer to Spiderman (see post of ages ago). I loved Ivan E. then and I love her now.
I love that after finishing an Ivan E. collection I’m left considering not just the subjects of the stories – familial bonds, those expectations about identity and behaviour we carry into any encounter with other people, the obligations we hold to one another, the limits we set, define or negotiate about our own identities – but the quality of “story” as a form. That Coyote’s stories read not as fictional tales with made-up protagonists in invented circumstances, but as stories we might hear and share at the pub, make reading a collection feel like a conversation, like I have been invited into an intimate exchange and have been trusted to hear the stories and do with them what I will (hopefully something good).
K. sent me this story last week, and when I got to it in the collection I was outraged, thinking someone had plagarized Coyote on a website, not putting together (sigh) that K. had sent me the very much attributed Coyote story: http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Ten_steps_to_getting_over_the_ex_who_just_walked_out_on_you-8095.aspx
I liked this one because it made me laugh, and diverged in tone from the rest of the collection that otherwise keeps close to first person narration and generally defines plot around small scale person-to-person interactions. (Also because it offers reasonable advice.)
No favourite story in this collection, just a general sense of appreciation for a writer who creates stories that read as personal and particular, and yet all the same widely understood and shared.
I didn’t want to read Bow River. It had a tough spine, and I hate books with a tough spine. But it was a Christmas gift from my brother, and I like to read books that are given to me so I can thank the person and mean it. So I read it. And I owe my brother. Owe him something awesome, because Ivan E. Coyote hooked me from page one and held me the whole way through, and has me still I think.
Bow River, Coyote’s first novel, introduces the reader to Joey a year after his wife has left him for another woman. He is forced to take a vacation because his mother is threatening him with Prozac and he has a car that belongs to another man and he needs to return it. The novel covers a week in Joey’s life, and a week is not – not nearly – enough. He is a character so endearing and so honest that I’ve spent the last few days wondering whether by moving to a small town in Alberta I might find my own Joey. And it’s not just him! The characters that surround him are delightful and so perfectly drawn that I could imagine both exactly who they are and somehow still think of a dozen people they remind me of.
Let me now say something about short stories. I don’t read short stories. Not unless I have to. But I put down Bow River and immediately picked up Coyote’s 2000 collection, Close to Spider Man. My problem with short stories is that you just get a snippet. Just a little tease of a character or a plot, and then you’re cut off. I fall in love in that I really and truly care about well written characters, but with short stories I’m constantly being separated from the characters I have been introduced to. Happily, Coyote’s collection follows one woman and uses one (more or less) consistent narrative voice. I have every intention of going to the library tomorrow to check out the remaining three collections. Those I suppose I’d be wise to ration them, as there’s a good chance I’ll be sulky and sad when my available Coyote stock disappears. Or maybe I’ll take a break, read something else, and just let these two stunning works roll around in my head for awhile. In any event, let’s hope my string of excellent reads continues.