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Thanks for Listening

Interview with Marta Dvorak

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I thought Buckler was a novelist, not a short story writer. Didn’t he write The Mountain and the Valley?

Yes, he did. But just like Sinclair Ross and W.O. Mitchell, he also wrote dozens of short stories and essays that began appearing in Canadian and American magazines in the 1940s. His first story, that I’ve included in this collection, came out in 1940 in Esquire, one of the central literary magazines that published leading American writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Some of the other stories I’ve selected appeared in Maclean’s. W.O. Mitchell, who was the fiction editor, really admired Buckler’s work, and his story “The Quarrel” won first prize in Maclean’s fiction contest.

Why do you compare Buckler to Sinclair Ross and W.O. Mitchell? Are his stories set in the prairies too?

No, they’re set in the farming communities of Nova Scotia, when electric lights, a car, or a radio were miraculous things to have. Like Ross, Buckler focuses on the home and family, at a time when male writers were rarely concerned with the domestic sphere. But his writing is sentimental, more like Mitchell’s. Instead of painting misery and despair, he celebrates the land and its community, and sensuously recreates a paradise, almost like the lost Garden of Eden. The idealistic and sentimental quality of his stories reveals the tastes of the forties and fifties in both the States and Canada.

What makes this story collection appealing to today’s readers?

First of all, the short story is fast becoming the dominant genre of the 21st century. This book gives readers what they’re looking for in short fiction. They want good story-telling, they want an authentic voice engaging them in fresh perceptions of age-old concerns, such as childhood, social bonding and commitment, or the collision of cultures and values. Buckler’s interest in time and memory as well as his interrogation of identity and ethics anticipate strong contemporary writing such as Carol Shields’, also rooted in the magic of the ordinary. On top of all that, the demand for books that evoke or recover our agrarian past is even greater today than in the mid-20th C. Buckler’s American publishers were right in believing that no one evoked that lost world better than he did.

Haven’t Buckler’s stories ever been collected before?

There’s been one selection that’s now out of print. Fourteen of the forty or so stories that Buckler published over the decades appeared in 1975 under the titles of The Rebellion of Young David. My book contains those stories and more. The earlier volume reprinted the stories as they had appeared in the better popular magazines, often with major cuts required by word format and editorial catering to market demand. I’ve chosen at times to include the fuller, original version, or to re-insert some of the lost passages. I’ve also selected previously uncollected stories, and even some previously unpublished pieces. One of these is the title piece, Thanks for Listening, an unusual story that in a way is the story of story-telling.

You already set out to re-establish Buckler’s literary reputation with your last critical book, Ernest Buckler: Rediscovery and Reassessment. Is this story collection part of a larger project?

The academic community welcomed the way my critical book repositioned a canonical giant within a global framework, and dealt with material that had so far received little critical attention. University students and teachers, both in Canada and abroad, will find this story collection invaluable for similar reasons. It makes available new material from a modernist writer remarkably adventurous with language. It also shows how Buckler anticipated certain concerns and practices in today’s writing. I’m thinking for instance of postmodern practices like the hybrid genres and forms Margaret Atwood delights in. Her pieces in Murder in the Dark or Good Bones which have been called sudden fiction, essay-fictions, or prose poems, are prolongations of the modernist penchant for fragmentation and blurring that we find in Buckler’s short fictions.