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Hugh Garner's Best Stories

Hugh Garner's Best Stories

Edited and with an Introduction by EMILY ROBINS SHARPE
Copyright Date: 2015
  • Book Info
    Hugh Garner's Best Stories
    Book Description:

    Hugh Garner's Best Storiesreceived the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction in 1963. The collection consists of twenty-four stories composed between the late 1930s and the early 1960s and reflects the immense flux of the mid-century, from the Great Depression to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and second-wave feminism. Garner takes on issues ranging from anglophone-francophone conflict in Canada to racism in the American South, from the disenfranchisement of First Nations people to the mistreatment of the mentally disabled. Best Stories is not only notable for the devastating precision of its prose, but also for its contribution to the Spanish Civil War literary canon. This new edition brings short fiction by Garner into conversation with the wider canon of Canadian and transnational leftist and proletarian literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-7766-2263-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxvi)

    Hugh Garner’s Best Storiesrepresents a quarter century of short prose that, taken together, develops a keen, careful view of Canada’s changing social conditions. Composed between the late 1930s and the early 1960s, these stories reflect the immense flux of the midcentury, including the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and second-wave feminism. Garner takes on issues ranging from anglophone-francophone conflict in Canada to racism in the American South, from the disenfranchisement of First Nations people to the mistreatment of the mentally disabled.

    Best Stories received both critical and popular acclaim when it...


    • Acknowledgements
      (pp. 3-6)
      (pp. 7-15)

      I could see Willie coming along the road from his place, walking fast like he always did. His long legs were jerking back and forth above his broken shoes and his tangled hair hung in a bang just above his wide-staring eyes, where it had been cut by his mother, Mrs. Heaps. His mouth was hanging loose like it usually was, and even from a distance you could see his long brown teeth that were always wet like a panting dog’s.

      Although he was thirty years old he didn’t seem much older than me. My father said it was silly...

    • THE FATHER (1958)
      (pp. 15-24)

      It wasn’t the boy who gave him the invitation, but the boy’s mother, his wife. Somehow even a little thing like this had become a shameful chore that the boy had avoided. Over the past year or two father and son had drifted apart, so that a strange shame and embarrassment coloured every event that brought them into contact.

      His wife had waited until the children had gone out after supper, the boy to play baseball and his older sister to run and scream with other teen-agers in the schoolyard. Then she had said, “Johnny wonders if you’ll go to...

      (pp. 24-29)

      There was a young fellow and a girl talking in one of the booths near the rear of the lunch room. As they whispered together their voices sounded hesitating and cracked. When it was late, or the place was ready to close, Slim had noticed that all the couples talked like that. All except the young punks who laughed too loud and said the silly things he never could remember saying himself when he was a punk.

      On a job like this you get to meet all kinds, he thought, but the worst kind of all are the loud-mouths. This...

    • LUCY (1952)
      (pp. 29-39)

      It was back in the mid nineteen-thirties that I first met Lucy Cullen, but it hardly seems that long ago. She must have been about twenty-seven then, a beautiful woman by any standards, not too tall but slim with a good bust and hips, and a pouting face that surrounded a small spoiled mouth and the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen. She wore her dark brown hair long in those days, and it gave her a girlish look that was not hindered by the short tight dresses she wore, or her French-heeled shoes.

      She was married, and lived on the...

      (pp. 39-47)

      He stepped on the gas when he reached the edge of town. The big car took hold of the pavement and began to eat up the miles on the straight, almost level, highway. With his elbow stuck through the open window he stared ahead at the shimmering greyness of the road. He felt heavy and pleasantly satiated after his good small-town breakfast, and he shifted his bulk in the seat, at the same time brushing some cigar ash from the front of his salient vest. In another four hours he would be home—a day ahead of himself this trip,...

    • MAKE MINE VANILLA (1963)
      (pp. 47-52)

      The change between the cool dimness of the public library and glare of the pavement-reflected sun made him squint. He paused on the library steps, his books under his arm, and breathed in the late June smell of the city neighbourhood.

      It was too early to return home, and too fine a day. The mere thought of the apartment, quiet with the daytime absence of his mother, turned his feet in the direction of the park when he reached the sidewalk. With his free hand he jiggled the change in the pocket of his bleached blue dungarees, trying to remember...

      (pp. 53-58)

      When we children were youngsters my family lived for a time in Quebec City, where my father had been posted by his company. Our house was a high brown stone affair, flush to the sidewalk, on one of the short curving streets which wind within the walls of the Old City. Next door to us was a small obscure convent hiding from the narrow street behind its catholorococo façade. Our backyard was adjacent to the yard of the convent, although separated from it by a high board fence. Despite the proximity of our cloistered neighbours it seemed to me they...

    • THE EXPATRIATES (1955)
      (pp. 59-62)

      There were nine of us leaving the depot for home that night. Four of us had just been discharged from the Gota de Leche Hospital in Albacete, Smitty was going back to the States to conduct a propaganda tour, and the other four were being expelled as “Undesirables.” The International Brigades office had given five of us 150 pesetas apiece to eat on as far as Barcelona, but the undesirables had to get along on 75 pesetas. The four who were being expelled from the International Brigades, and from Spain, had been brought to the train from the military prison,...

    • RED RACER (1950)
      (pp. 62-71)

      The sun burned a hole in the sky and sent its thermal rays into the bare fields between the trees. The air was tense and still, as if every living organism was hoarding its strength for something vague but promised by the quiet day. Now and then Marcel Boudreau stopped his labours between the rows of yellowing leaves that topped the potato plants, and looked above the boundary of spruce and fir trees into the north-west sky.

      Around the small cleared patch of farmland the wooded hills that skirt the Gaspé Coast had the appearance of a dirty patched fur...

      (pp. 72-82)

      When she received the written invitation, her first inclination was to tear it up, but there was something so archaic about its Victorian solemnity that she changed her mind and decided to show it around for laughs. The other girls in the sorority house would get a bang out of its quaint old-fashioned phrasing, and its almost regal tone of command.

      The first person she showed it to was her best friend and roommate Carlotta Hibson, who read it with unrestrained glee.

      “Listen to this, Penny,” Carlotta said, quoting from the copperplate script.

      “‘We are looking forward to an hour...

    • A VISIT WITH ROBERT (1952)
      (pp. 82-94)

      Charlie Thomas alighted from the day coach into the sweet green-smelling spring evening. The look of the small Ontario town was familiar, with the long-expected familiarity of a place worn thin with the thinking of it. Down the cinder road that connected the small station with the town could be seen the dark cool expanse of the St. Lawrence, its heavy sluggishness tugging at the green banks that pointed its way to the far-off sea.

      “Taxi, Mac?” a voice at his elbow asked. It was strange to be addressed as “Mac” instead of Sir or Mister. He turned his head,...

      (pp. 94-98)

      The three of us sauntered down the street, munching the stale biscuits and trying not to lose too much of the dried-out icing. We were pretty shabby, even for November, 1933, and the grime was etched into our faces from riding the tops from Cincinnati, where Michigan and I had picked up Brownie. We’d spent the night before sleeping on some old car seats in the pumphouse in Yazoo City, and now we were in the Mississippi state capital, Jackson. The biscuits had been bought with part of a dollar I’d found beside the Illinois Central right-of-way that morning.


    • ONE MILE OF ICE (1952)
      (pp. 98-107)

      Down here in our part of New Brunswick we have a great respect for winter, but not much liking for it. Snow has its uses: it makes easily traversed winter roads through the woods and covers the earth to keep the frost from penetrating too deep, but, to us, it is not formed of the gossamer flakes that fall upon a poet’s window. Sometimes it is blinding and cruel and impenetrable, and its dainty little patterns when multiplied a billion times can kill a man, and often do. And there are those of us who are afraid of the winter...

    • THE MAGNET (1954)
      (pp. 108-117)

      He sat beside her in the cab of the truck as they left the small town behind and bounced along the narrow dirt road that wound seven miles through the hills to the farm. She did not look at him, but concentrated on her driving, aware at times that he was taking secret glances at her profile.

      She said to herself, “I’ll begin right away to keep him at a distance, and then he’ll realize that I am the employer and he is the hired man.”

      The truck was an old one, and it still bore her dead husband’s name...

    • SOME ARE SO LUCKY (1949)
      (pp. 118-131)

      I met Ethel Walton last week. It was strange, because it happened as I had always pictured it would. I left the office rather late, and was standing on the curb waiting to flag a taxi when my eyes strayed across the busy street. There she was, coming out of the doorway of a department store. I hurried through the rain to intercept her.

      “Hello, Ethel,” I said, when I caught up.

      “Why— hello,” she answered, searching my face for a clue to my identity.

      “You don’t remember me, do you?”

      “Your face looks familiar—” she began.

      “Rod. Rod...

    • HUNKY (1961)
      (pp. 131-143)

      It was a hot August morning. The sun, still low against the horizon, was a white-hot stove lid that narrowed the eyes and made the sweat run cold along the spine. The sky was as high and blue as heaven, and the shade-giving cumulus wouldn’t form until noon. Before us lay the serried rows of tobacco, armpit high and as dull green as bile. Along with Hunky and the other members of the priming gang I sat in the grass at the edge of the Ontario field waiting for the stoneboat to arrive from the farmyard. The noise of the...

      (pp. 143-146)

      “What can I do for you?” asked the fat interne from his position against the white-tiled emergency room sink. The place smelled of iodoform and Lysol. In the next room the work-shirted figure of a man was lying on an operating table, his blue denim shirt contrasting sharply with the snowy whiteness of the linen sheets and the sterile walls. A pair of toe-soiled white shoes were visible beneath the chromium table.

      “I came in here—” the man in the doorway said. “I was sent in here by the girl in the office.”

      He was a short bareheaded young...

      (pp. 146-153)

      The old-fashioned day coach was hot, with a musty, gritty heat that was carried by the train from one frequent stop to the next as it snaked its tortuous way through the evergreen hills and the elongated farms along the Gaspé coast. The faded plush seats held the heat while the train was still, only to diffuse it again as the torpid air took motion as they left each tiny station.

      He had shut his eyes almost as soon as they had boarded the train thirty miles back, trying to blot out the heat with darkness, trying to sink into...

    • A MANLY HEART (1955)
      (pp. 153-161)

      Graduation Day morning was cloudy, and it looked like rain. Through the narrow window that I shared with my room-mate Archie Tomlinson I could see a corner of the quadrangle, grey-looking under the dark clouds that hung above the school. The sight of the threatening clouds made me happy, for if it rained they’d have to move the graduation exercises into the auditorium. It would be bad enough her being there, but not half as bad as if they held the affair on the Junior Playing Field, and she would be out there being stared at by all the other...

      (pp. 161-167)

      The wounded man left the field dressing station as a walking casualty. He was not yet groggy from the antitetanus injection, and except for the line of dried blood running down his shirt into his back pocket you would not have known he was wounded. On top of his left shoulder was a small gauze pad held to the skin with adhesive tape, as if covering an aching carbuncle.

      It was July, 1937 and the International Brigades were attacking south from the hills towards the town of Brunete on the plain. It was the biggest offensive our side had made...

    • A TRIP FOR MRS. TAYLOR (1951)
      (pp. 167-175)

      Mrs. Taylor got out of bed at five o’clock that morning; an hour ahead of her usual time for getting up. She moved around her attic room with the stealth of a burglar, making herself her morning cup of tea on the hotplate, and dressing quietly so as not to disturb her landlady, Mrs. Connell, on the floor below.

      She dressed her tiny self carefully, donning a clean white camisole and her black Sunday frock. After she had drunk her tea and eaten a slice of thinly margarined toast she washed her cup and saucer in some water she had...

    • E EQUALS MC SQUARED (1963)
      (pp. 175-184)

      There were two guys standing at the inspection bench when I came back from the water fountain. A short Bulgarian we called Joe had an angle bracket with holes at each end. I picked it up, glanced at the layout on the greasy blueprint, and measured the diameters and positions of the holes with my scale. Most of the operators liked to bring their work to the counter, especially the first ones off the press, for it gave them a short break away from their machines.

      “Is good?” Joe asked.

      “Sure. You’ve got a tolerance a mile wide on this,”...

      (pp. 184-189)

      Although I was born in England in 1913, of English ancestry, I didn’t become an Englishman until 1937. And the strange part of it is that my rebirth, if I can call it that, happened while I was serving in a Communist army.

      I suppose that everyone at some point in their life meets up with a moment which helps shape his destiny. At the time it may have little or no significance, but looking back on it from the omniscience of the present it stands out as a turning point in his existence. My moment happened on a July...

      (pp. 189-198)

      After they had eaten, Big Tom pushed the cracked and dirty supper things to the back of the table and took the baby from its high chair carefully, so as not to spill the flotsam of bread crumbs and boiled potatoes from the chair to the floor.

      He undressed the youngster, talking to it in the old dialect, trying to awaken its interest. All evening it had been listless and fretful by turns, but now it seemed to be soothed by the story of Po-chee-ah, and the Lynx, although it was too young to understand him as his voice slid...

  6. Explanatory Notes
    (pp. 199-214)
  7. Textual Notes
    (pp. 215-281)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)