Commodore Books, 114 pp, $16, softcover.
Way back in 1995, the House of Commons formally recognized February as Black History Month. Today, that celebration is well entrenched, and as the month winds down, let's pause to mark a related event of signal importance.
In November, SFU's fine literary journal West Coast Line midwifed a literary press. Steered by the redoubtable Wayde Compton in the company of Karina Vernon and David Chariandy, Commodore Books presents itself as Western Canada's “first and only” black literary press. Its debut offering is Fred Booker's collection of linked stories, Adventures in Debt Collection. The title is unironic—its characters really are repo men and women—but if you see a subversive wit in black agents running white defaulters to earth, then you're in on at least one of Booker's jokes.
The stories are lively, though the situations often strain to accommodate allegory (“Nativity”), a moral (“A Mask for Charlie Dan”), or a politics of survival (“Terpsichore for Man and Woman”). Their neatest trick confounds racial assumptions altogether, blending black, Native, and Asian heritages (for instance) with a trickster's inclination to likable effect, as with Bob Ware, descended “from Alberta's famous black cowboy, John Ware, whom the Sarcee called Matoxy Sixapeekwan, or ”˜bad black white man' ”.
Booker is generous in his fondness for his characters and their grit; though the stories' bones are shaky, their heart is strong. The author could be speaking of himself when he writes: “As a visible minority in Vancouver, he was in the enviable position to observe power being used without being the victim of it.” Those observations deserve attention.