Street Symphony Review - The Vancouver Sun
Reviewed by: ROBERT J. WIERSEMA
Generally speaking, there are two approaches to reading a collection of short stories, each with their own advantages. Some readers advocate for the reading of the collection as a whole, from cover to cover, as one would a novel, to fully immerse oneself in the author’s world and approach. Others favour reading stories in isolation (as they would have been read, likely, in their initial publications in magazines and journals), allowing each story to stand and be savoured on its own.
As a rule, this is largely a matter of personal taste; neither approach is empirically “better” than the other.
Certain collections, though — like Street Symphony , the powerful new book from Victoria writer Rachel Wyatt — all but require an immersive reading, with the concentrated focus a reader would bring to a novel.
Street Symphony is a collection of linked stories. It is, however, a subtler linking than one might expect. Unlike tightly linked story collections such as Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are and Mark Anthony Jarman’s Knife Party at the Hotel Europa (published earlier this year), the stories of which focus on the same characters in distinct and separate narratives, the stories of Street Symphony are linked more casually, often on the basis of a passing image or phrase. Yes, characters do reappear in different stories, shifting from the background in one story to the foreground in another, but there are no central figures around whom the collection comes to revolve.
Rather than lessening the impact of the connections, however, the subtle linkage of the stories in Street Symphony build to an understated power and force, an arrangement of motifs which contributes to — as the title might suggest — an almost musical structure and resolution. Each separate story reads as a musical passage, a movement of the titular symphony.
Despite the imperative to read Street Symphony as a whole, each story can — as they must — stand on its own. And it is in the miniature, the specific, that Wyatt reveals the true depths of her talent.
Wyatt, who has been awarded both the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her literary works, writes with a grace and ease that belies just how carefully these stories are constructed, a humanity that somewhat obscures the technical rigour she imposes.