Star Phoenix Review Season of Fury and Wonder

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson
Here are two works of fiction by a couple of Saskatchewan ex-pats: Season of Fury and Wonder, a collection of short stories by Sharon Butala, and Rag & Bone Man, a novel by Don Dickinson (both Coteau Books, $24.95).

Butala, who was born in Nipawin, educated at the University of Saskatchewan, and long a resident of Eastend, now lives in Calgary, where she continues her prodigious writing output. In Season of Fury and Wonder, she has reflected on those classic stories she encountered in her life, particularly in her first year at university, and structured her collection as responses to those stories. If you are aware of her latest books or her essay in The Walrus on being the object of ageism, it will come as no surprise that the stories here are all told by or are about elderly women. And many of them — stories and women — are very angry.

In “Grace’s Garden,” a woman who is no longer capable of maintaining her large home sees that her children are trying to move her out, and in the case of her son, sell the valuable property.

“She could see that she was moving toward the end of possibilities. She would not budge. She would not.”

Later, she concedes that the social worker brought in as a mediator at least treats her like a human being, not with the usual voice she has come to know: “the old as stubborn, offensive in their very existence, newly stupid, ineffective and always helpless, too close to death to be bothered with except as packages to be bathed and humped around in wheelchairs.”

In “Soothsayer,” the main character asks: “why should the life of an old person be a poor copy of the life of a young one? As if to be an old person was merely to be a failed young one?” while in “Sisters” one of them is “a pressure cooker full of steaming rage.” There’s also fury at men, as in “Pansy,” and at small-minded towns and societies, in general.

Butala writes in her preface that as “one’s world draws in, gets smaller and smaller, the inner life grows stronger and deeper. Life becomes thought.”

These are stories of women thinking as their physical world draws in. The woman in What Else We Talk About When We Talk About Love reflects on the concept of love and if she ever felt it. She believes her mother loved her least of all her children. Now she’s being asked to show it to dying relatives.

The woman in Downsizing is probably the most active of all the women here. Her husband dies, she wants a mate, so she goes looking through all her old boyfriends for a suitable partner. The woman in The Things That Mattered simply sits and weeps, her response to all that’s happened and all that she sees happening around her.

Butala’s tone can be bitter, her sentences sometimes serpentine, reflecting the twisting thoughts of her characters as they grapple with their new reality. A Butala character jokes about Henry James-like sentences, the author knowing full well she’s writing them herself.

Season of Fury and Wonder is a thought-provoking and readable collection, even as the characters’ often angry musings get a little wearying. And would that the publisher had deigned to adopt a typeface that wasn’t so tiny. Who does it think is reading a collection of stories about old women?

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