Matt Rader is an acclaimed writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction whose work has appeared in numerous journals. He’s been nominated for the Journey Prize and two Pushcart Prizes, and his story “All This Was a Long Time Ago” won the 2014 Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award from The Malahat Review. That story is included in Rader’s debut collection, a series of 15 gritty and challenging tales concerning the quiet struggles of working-class people, past and present, in Comox Valley, B.C.
Rader is at his strongest when he writes about the male mistrust of language, and the subtle yet inherent violence of sex. In “Bearing the Body,” for example, a man experiences an epiphany while caring for his dying father, who abandoned him as a child: “[I]t felt good and right to Joe that he could be, finally, at forty-two, comfortable without speaking in his father’s presence.” “In Russia” features a married couple who share a moment of loaded intimacy following a confession: “She imagined his skin going red and blistering where she touched him. His thigh. His inner thigh. His groin.”
The collection’s four historical stories, on the other hand, feel pedantic and out of place among the more finely wrought contemporary works. “The Children of the Great Strike, Vancouver Island, 1912–1914” reads like a textbook: “The union planned to barricade the railway on the 17th of February 1913. We know this from a notebook belonging to William Greaves and donated by his widow in 1968 to the University of British Columbia along with Greaves’ account books and papers addressing his service in the Siberian Expedition of 1919.” The strict concern with citing sources devalues the story’s fictionalized moments. How are readers to accept that there was “a gallant tremor” in a character’s voice if the narrator feels we require proof for some details and not others?
No such concerns exist when it comes to the rawness of “At the Lake,” the collection’s most daring – and economical – story, nor the sinister suggestiveness of “A Half-Wonder,” in which two men reminisce over a box of old photographs in an airport bar.
The overall feel, however, is that of a laboured and disjointed collection that veers between moments of great subtlety and dry pedagogical cataloguing