Running The Whale’s Back: A Broken Pencil review

Running The Whale’s Back, Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris, 303 pages, Goose Lane editions, http://www.gooselane.com, $19.95

Editors Andrew Atkinson and Mark harris have accomplished a great feat with this anthology. It often is hard to discuss issues of faith without sounding overly preachy or cynical but “Running The Whale’s Back” does just that. This collection of short stories and novel excerpts puts a mirror to Atlantic Canada, reflecting the life of its inhabitants as they navigate – sometimes literally – through their lives.

A common man buries two frozen travellers while a nun refuses to perform funeral rites. A baby is miraculously found by the river banks while another drowns in one. This idea of duality is a running theme in the anthology and reflected in its structure. The sacred seems ever present, perhaps in part due to the almost god like force of nature and the religious legacy left by the early settlers in these small communities.

While most stories are more realistic in nature one stands out in particular. “My husband’s jump”, a ski jumper who takes off never lands. In one of the anthology’s weaker pieces, “Doves”, the narrator’s inner monologue is punctuated with culturally inaccurate images that slightly detracts from the story.

Despite this small hiccup what we have here is a strong body of work whose subject matter is relevant in a society where the role religion is constantly in question. The writers do not shy away from the raw and the gritty. Nothing is black and white and we are invited to explore this greyness through diverse and unique voices.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Think Pakistani Catch-22. To call “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” that however, would be to ignore the unique stand alone piece of fiction that it is. Ali Shigri, A young soldier in General Zia era’s Pakistan army seeks answers and retribution for his father’s apparent suicide. Satirical criticism of the military state, this novel is not only hilarious but a rather interesting and beautifully written study on the army world and its idiosyncrasies.