Book Review: What I Want to Tell Goes Like This

BOOKS_What-I-Want-To-TellMatt Rader, 256 pgs, Nightwood Editions, nightwoodeditions.com, $21.95 

Sitting at the intersection of history and fiction (and who’s to say which is which?), poet Matt Rader assembles his first collection of short stories concerning the cloud of gloom and desperation enveloping the past and present of Comox Valley, B.C. What I Want to Tell Goes Like This cycles back and forth between the struggles of today’s working class and fictionalized accounts of those same struggles borrowed from a century in the past.

Unfortunately the latter stories are the weakest of the collection, where, such as in “The Children of the Great Strike, Vancouver Island, 1912–1914”, Rader is too concerned with sourcing his historical material, dooming the narrative to a loquacious and professorial recitation of facts and bibliography. The collection’s contemporary stories, on the other hand, look into humanity’s complexity, from its confluence of sex and violence to the encumbrance of its past.

In “Bearing the Body”, a son slowly comes to terms with the abandonment and callousness of his dying father in an epiphany that’s both wistful and poignant: “Somehow, Joe felt, this dying body erased the past; made it so Anders’ body had always been this body and Joe knew that for a long time this would be the only body he remembered.” On the other side of the spectrum, “At the Lake” serves as a gritty and unyielding flash of sexual brutality echoing the violence of the site’s past.

There’s a genuine emotional intelligence to Rader’s exploration that deserves recognition. Still, What I Want to Tell Goes Like This often hides it behind a wall of grandiloquence. Look beyond it, and you’ll find an acerbic honesty demanding to be read and understood. (Paul Rocca)

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