It is easy to get nostalgic about childhood and there’s nothing wrong with that. One might expect nostalgia in an anthology of Canadian stories selected by Stuart McLean, the gentle host of CBC’s The Vinyl Cafe. Many of the stories do have tender memories that readers will share. We think that old people that lose memories, but it is not long into the teenage years that we begin to forget what it is like to be five years old. The stories help reclaim that time.
On the other hand, maybe there are reasons to forget. In Davies’ What’s Bred in the Bone, young Francis goes to school where his peers are quick to observe that his second name, Chegwidden, sounds awfully similar to ‘chicken’. In Klein’s Kapusitchka, the cat is lying strangely and flies are buzzing around him; it’s not true when they said he scratched the baby. And in Huggan’s Jack of Hearts, Elizabeth gets cast in the ballet’s lead role, as a boy. The themes mature through the 22 stories by well know Canadian writers such as Atwood, Findley, Laurence, and Munro. Hockey Night in Canada by Schoemperlen seems innocent enough till mother’s friend, Rita, gets a little too interested in father’s team. Not everything about childhood is hot chocolate and rosy cheeks at grandma’s table, and McLean’s choices do not shy away from the darker elements. In the end, it’s all part of who we are today. As Michaels’ says, “The memories we elude catch up to us, overtake us like a shadow. A truth appears suddenly in the middle of a thought, a hair on a lens.” A good read over Christmas holidays.