The Georgia Straight Review - A Song for Nettie Johnson

Reviewed by: Anne Fleming

Edmonton writer Gloria Sawai's story "The Day I Sat With Jesus on the Sundeck and Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts" has been a favourite of mine since I first came upon it iin my youth. Now, 17 years later, it anchors Sawai's first collection. 

The story is deliciously irreverent. Jesus of Nazareth shares a glass of wine with Moose Jaw housewife Gloria Johnson and tells her she has a nice view and nice breasts and then leans over and flicks her nipple. But the irreverence is superficial. Underneath lies a profound (if, on Gloria's part, slightly baffled) reverence, and it's my guess that that's what has made the story so popular.

None of the other stories quite hits the same not, though most are concerned in some way with faith and religion. None is quite as funny. Six of the nine are set in Stone Creek, Saskatchewan, with its beer parlour, Chinese cafe, dry-good store, shut-down creamery, houses, school, and three churches. It's a major event when a boy like Ivan Lippoway announces he's an atheist and suggests a debate in class: "Be it resolved that there is no God." Especially for Elizabeth Lund, whose father is the Lutheran pastor and whose grandfather is a fanatical follower of a charismatic Norwegian lay preacher. Though her brother scoffs, Elizabeth writes her argument as a poem, and almost a love poem at that, both to God and to Ivan.

It's not an idyllic town. The doctor is a drunk, though the most desperate people still call on him and he gives them good care. There's a whiff of incestuousness in the love-hate relationship between Elizabeth and her brother Peter, expertly portrayed in "The Ground You Stand On". Everybody in Sawai's world is flawed and interesting. Norma puts it this way: "You go to places, knowing all along it won't be just right or true. There'll be darkness there, and some damage. But you go just the same. There'll always be some light. Pieces of it anyway. And you can notice that."

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