Winnipeg Free Press Review - The Hour of Bad Decisions
Exploring poor choices that people make
Reviewed by: Winnipeg Free Press
RAGING fires, screaming women and knife-wielding men are among the lingering images found in the debut short fiction collection of Newfoundland writer Russell Wangersky. Each of the stories sets out to explore the incredibly poor choices people make at critical junctures in their lives. In that respect, Wangersky's flawed, predominantly blue-collar heroes negotiate the same emotional terrain as the fictional characters of the late Winnipeg author Don Bailey.
A journalist, Wangersky has garnered several National Newspaper Awards, as well as creative non-fiction prizes in literary journals such as Prism and Prairie Fire. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of the St. John's Telegram.
Written in succinct, lyrical prose, the stories unfold amid the backdrop of the Maritimes. Obviously enamoured of the natural setting, Wangersky aptly captures its beauty with details often underscoring the actions of the characters. In No Apologies for Weather, the narrator draws an analogy between his girlfriend's erratic mood swings and the lack of predictability of the elements. 'Atlantic storms roll in fast, the first warning a thin petticoat of high, light cloud that spreads across the sky, unstoppable,' Wangersky writes. 'One moment, there is that thin sunlight -- that white, bright hard sunlight through a scrim of high cloud -- and the next, the long green robes of the spruce trees have gone dark with frightened anticipation.' Other details evoke a sense of foreboding. In the story Dealing with Determinism, the hero's footprints in the snow 'create their own forgiving, erasing avalanches. 'Some of Wangersky's stories focus on characters experiencing dilemmas on the job. Mapping recounts the tale of a firefighter haunted by graphic images of his rescue victims. He eventually maps the location of each fire, in the vain hope that this record will banish the trauma he has undergone. The solitary hero in Musical Chairs wins favour at work due to a serious injury. As the circum-stance fades, he makes a calculated, albeit bad, decision to recapture his co-workers' attention.
Throughout the collection, many of the protagonists suffer from relationships gone awry. Several stories, such as Bowling Night, Hot Tub and Latitude of Walls, focus on marital discord. As one of the characters reflects, 'An accident in a marriage is as easy as being rear-ended at a stop sign.' Other stories attempt to shed light on the nature of loneliness. In Housekeeping, an elderly man mysteriously checks into a motel for a prolonged period of time. In Better Than This, the book's only female heroine views her circumscribed life in a white farmhouse as 'a kind of gingerbread prison.' Though all of Wangersky's stories are well crafted, some raise our temperature more than others. Nevertheless, many readers will recognize themselves within the pages of this collection. Bev Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.