Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack

This collection of short stories depicts Mennonites living in the area around Swift Current, Saskatchewan. If you take away the cream gravy and the rollkuchen, they could almost be any farm or small town families in the Canadian prairies. Having been raised in a similar (albeit Catholic) environment, I could identify with the setting (and a vocabulary that includes chesterfields). Hossack's characters, however, are hard on each other and themselves and are so beaten-down by life in general that I felt fortunate not to have known their sort when I was growing up.

I wasn't wowed by Hossack's plain writing style, which relies heavily on exposition, and I found some of the stories too sentimental. I was also unconvinced by the similes, for example describing a laugh as "a sound as dry as paper being crumpled." If I hadn't just read Cate Kennedy's remarkable prose, I would perhaps have felt more generous. Still, if you're looking for realistic hard-luck tales about surviving rather than thriving, you'll find them in Mennonites Don't Dance.

Saskatchewan short stories that I really liked: A Hard Witching by Jacqueline Baker; Cool Water by Dianne Warren; and A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai. If you're looking for more about Mennonites, you can't go wrong with A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. Last summer at the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival, I heard some very funny stories about growing up Mennonite as told by Rebecca Schellenberg.

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