Short sto­ries from Cor­ner Brook West

The Compass - - OPINION -

Short-story col­lec­tions are not my pre­ferred choice of read­ing ma­te­rial. Per­haps I share the sen­ti­ments of Claire McAl­phine who writes in an on­line ar­ti­cle: “There’s some­thing dis­con­tin­u­ous about our read­ing re­la­tion­ship with short sto­ries. At the end of each story we are thrown out of that world cre­ated by the cho­sen words of the au­thor en­hanced by our imag­i­na­tion, back into our sur­round­ings with­out leav­ing a thread; we then en­ter an­other story and be­gin to build a new pic­ture of char­ac­ters, place and sit­u­a­tions.”

How­ever, from time to time, an au­thor of short sto­ries will cap­ture my at­ten­tion, and I will ob­ses­sively track down what­ever he has writ­ten. The expatri­ate New­found­lan­der, Tom Finn, is one such ex­am­ple.

He was, as he’s in­clined to say, “bred and but­tered” in Cor­ner Brook West, grad­u­at­ing from St. Bernard’s Academy. He worked in New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land and Cal­i­for­nia, be­fore tak­ing up res­i­dence in Ot­tawa. He is now a re­tired federal pub­lic ser­vant.

He continues to take a keen in­ter­est in the af­fairs of his home­land, be­ing es­pe­cially in­trigued by the trans­for­ma­tion New­found­land un­der­went fol­low­ing the Amer­i­can “in­va­sion” in the 1940s and the union with Canada in 1949.

He’s the au­thor of three books: “Princes,” “Malpeque Bay: A State of Mind” and, now, “West­siders.”

A lit­er­ary pen­chant runs through the Finn fam­ily. Tom de­scribes his fa­ther as “a poet who failed the call­ing and never found his voice.” Tom’s brother, Ed, is also a pub­lished au­thor, hav­ing re­leased his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “A Jour­nal­ist’s Life on the Left,” last year.

As early as 1991, Tom was writ­ing about “the new world of my own death now un­mis­tak­ably in sight on the hori­zon.” He was born in 1931 and, thank­fully, is still in the land of the liv­ing and con­tin­u­ing to re­gale read­ers with his writ­ing.

Tom has a ded­i­cated read­er­ship. Ac­cord­ing to one, he “writes skill­fully.” His work is “im­pres­sive,” “well­crafted” and “char­ac­ter-driven.” His sense of di­a­logue is keen; he ex­hibits “con­trolled use of lan­guage.” He has pro­duced “some real gems.” In­deed, it has been said he “has done for pre­Con­fed­er­a­tion New­found­land what James Joyce in his sto­ries did for his na­tive Dublin.” High praise in­deed!

I re­al­ize now I would be re­miss if I failed to read Tom’s lat­est of­fer­ing of short sto­ries, “West­siders of the Town of Cor­ner Brook, New­found­land, Canada.”

His pub­lisher, Pe­tra Books of Ot­tawa, sug­gests: “Like a ship in the mist, there emerges from these tragi­comic lives, fraught with de­sires and delu­sions, a recog­ni­tion of our­selves.”

Tom may have left New­found­land many years ago, but ob­vi­ously New­found­land has not left him. His fond­ness for the Is­land is ev­i­dent on ev­ery page.

His sto­ries re­volve around daily life in the west coast city in the midtwen­ti­eth century. The reader gets to en­joy the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of the res­i­dents as they go about their (some­times) hum­drum ex­is­tence. The char­ac­ters re­mem­bered are an orig­i­nal lot.

Tom em­ploys a stream of con­scious­ness nar­ra­tive mode, plac­ing the reader in the mind of a given char­ac­ter. This writ­ing style may not be favoured by ev­ery­one, but it serves to bring many in­ner thoughts and feel­ings to the fore. On the downside, such in­te­rior mono­logue leads to ex­tremely lengthy sen­tences and para­graphs, some close to a page long.

One story, “Trav­eller,” tells Jenny’s story. Board­ing a train, she “dabs at her eyes, but only nods and says noth­ing. Leav­ing — she is re­ally, re­ally go­ing. Away from the sul­phurous town, from all the old and in-the-past, away from those two stiff fig­ures stand­ing be­wil­dered on the dusty plat­form, all re­ced­ing, di­min­ish­ing to noth­ing.”

Inquiring minds want to know, why is Jenny leav­ing town? Is she em­bark­ing on a care­free jour­ney or one forced on her by per­sonal cir­cum­stances now be­yond her abil­ity to con­trol?

“Where would he be now, she won­ders, that hand­some-look­ing Yank, Gary, or Ray, Ray from Cal­i­for­nia, the one who has touched her like that? Drink­ing Coca-Cola at the USO maybe, or gone alto- gether, more likely.”

This is a hint, but read­ers want to know what else will be re­vealed. And, pray tell, what role is be­ing played by Sis­ter Imelda who, Jenny’s fa­ther says, “is on her way up to the very same con­vent school, would you be­lieve it now, go­ing up on the very same train that very same day, and has of­fered to see Jenny de­liv­ered safe and sound.” Why is Jenny head­ing to a con­vent school?

Tom ex­pertly crafts his sto­ries in such a way that en­gages the reader. I’m glad I fi­nally broke with per­sonal tra­di­tion and read his fine collection of 10 short sto­ries. — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at

bur­tonj@nfld.net

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