Short story collection touches on past and present
Kelowna author Matt Rader’s short story collection, What I Want to Tell Goes Like This, draws on Vancouver Island’s long and turbulent history of labour activism. The final story in the book, All This Was a Long Time Ago, was awarded the Jack Hodgins Founders Award from the Malahat Review. Rader is the 2014 recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Joseph S. Stauffer Prize for literature and has written three books of poems, including Miraculous Hours ( Nightwood Editions, 2005), which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and longlisted for the Relit Award. Rader teaches at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
Q Albert ( Ginger) Goodwin, the famous union activist, pops up in more than one of your historical stories — what interests you about him?
A Goodwin was an orator and writer. He was a public voice. It is his voice coupled with his controversial shooting death near Cumberland on Vancouver Island in 1918 that makes him quasi- mythical, that makes him important. I began with the question, “Who tells the story when the storyteller is dead?” Goodwin was the voice for what is now an alternative history, a what- might- havebeen, a history that we only hear now in fragments.
Q For you, what was the most standout fact or moment from Vancouver Island history that you came across in your research for this book?
A The Great Vancouver Island Coal Strike is interesting in light of current labour struggles. People were shot and bombs exploded. Families were dispossessed of their homes. The Seaforth Highlanders were deployed with rifles and cannons along the main street of Cumberland. It was part of larger international political machinations. Mother Jones visited Cumberland. Sun Yat Sen visited Cumberland to raise money for the Xinhai Revolution. Even Kaiser Wilhelm and the building of the Panama Canal have roles to play in the intrigue. But it’s what’s not in the historical record that’s most remarkable, especially with respect to industry: indigenous peoples; the lives of women and children. These remain the crucibles of social struggle today.
Q Why did you decide to alternate between historically based stories and contemporary ones in the same collection?
A My experience of history is that it is happening right now. History is the stories we tell about the past. Those stories are part of how we understand what is happening and what is going to happen. This collection juxtaposes time periods not for any didactic purpose but to hear how the times “sound” together. For example, the fear, confusion, and doubt of the two men sitting with Goodwin’s body at the edge of Comox Lake make a chord with the confusion and doubt the two boys feel after a violent and fraught sexual encounter with a girl at the edge of the very same lake almost a hundred years later.
Q Now that you’ve published books of both fiction and of poetry, how different are they for you?
A Prose fiction — especially prose narrative — has commercial and social relationships with truth and invention, reality and imagination, that poetry is less frequently called to account for. This is in part due to poetry’s literary and cultural status, but also because of its history as a literary mode. Poems are neither fiction nor non- fiction. That’s part of their power. The longer I work at stories, the more I want my stories to have that same power. Goodwin the historical figure is as much a constructed character as Goodwin the literary figure of my stories. This is the case for all my characters whether contemporary or historical, famous or unknown. Goodwin. James Joyce and Nora Barnacle. Kid Curry. All identities are constructed. Coming to accept this was one of the most difficult yet engaging aspects of writing and publishing this book.