Lisa Moore, ed.

The only inexplicable thing about this superb anthology of writing by Canadian women is the rock-star treatment given its editor, Lisa Moore, whose name on the cover can only be described as the typographical equivalent of shrieking. Moore would undoubtedly have been included here were she not the editor, but given the canonical Canadian heavyweights who lie between the covers – Munro, Gallant, Shields, and Atwood are obvious examples – let’s just say that the marquee billing feels a tad disproportionate.

Moore_The Penguin Book of Canadian Women’s Short StoriesThat said, Moore has done a top-notch job of bringing together the best and brightest in the “genre.” And whatever your thoughts about the relevance of gender-specific anthologies, as Moore points out in her introduction, it at least puts an arbitrary restraint on what would otherwise be an unwieldy tome, there being such a surfeit of quality work produced by the fairer half of the English Canadian writing populace alone.

Almost every story here is very, very good. Of particular note among the newer guard are pieces by Ramona Dearing, Camilla Gibb, Frances Itani, Nancy Lee, Madeleine Thien, and Alissa York. Indeed, the talent among even this small group is so incontestable that it ensures beyond the shadow of a doubt the future of Canadian women’s short fiction.

The book is structured alphabetically by author, which sometimes proves detrimental to those left sitting in the shadows of giants. Zsuzsi Gartner’s “The Nature of Pure Evil” feels ungainly following on the heels of Mavis Gallant’s incandescent “The Concert Party.” Emma Richler’s “Sister Crazy” suffers from a sophomoric muddiness exacerbated by its position next to Alice Munro’s masterfully wrought “Wenlock Edge.”

Moore admits that she gave up on her original intention to fairly represent all regions of Canada, choosing, instead, stories that made her forget about such artificial constructs and that were simply good. In doing so, she unburdens the text from the quota systems that stultify many a well-intentioned anthology and allows the gems she has unearthed to really shine.

—Emily Donaldson