What I Want to Tell Goes Like This
By Matt Rader. Harbour, 256 pp, softcover
With his first collection of short stories, noted poet and writer Matt Rader, who works at UBC Okanagan, pulls together a wealth of work, previously published in literary magazines. What I Want to Tell Goes Like This is a wildly uneven collection, but that’s by careful design, with historically rooted stories juxtaposed against frequently open-ended contemporary fictions. Each approach has its own strengths, but it is as a whole that the collection comes into its own, cohering into something greater than its impressive parts.
Rader writes largely of, and out of, Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, where he grew up. The historical stories, including “The Children of the Great Strike, Vancouver Island, 1912-14”, draw from scrupulous research—included within the story itself, anchoring it to the realities of time—but create emotional truth from the often barren nature of straight facts. Conversely, the contemporary stories, such as “The Laurel Whalen”, start from fraught moments of emotional crisis, building outward from the laden human heart. Rader’s sense of place, his rootedness in the central island, creates a layering effect, incidents from one story echoing in another, not thematically but through geography.
The collection, however, works to create meaning from the intersection of the historical and the contemporary approaches. The final story, “All This Was a Long Time Ago”, which was awarded the Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award from the Malahat Review earlier this year, follows James Joyce through the creation of “The Dead”, the final story in Dubliners. Through Joyce, Rader explores the synergy between the historical and the intimate, as well as the significance of geographic rootedness and the role of the writer in bringing the past forward, and placing the present firmly within the continuum of time. It’s a ballsy move, drawing on “The Dead”, arguably one of the greatest short fictions of the English language, to clarify—in fiction—one’s own artistic credo and approach, but Rader avoids any sense of presumptuousness. The power of the stories in What I Want to Tell Goes Like This makes the overt reference to Joyce’s masterpiece feel fitting and, more importantly, justified.