Reviewed by Robert Runté
Darcy Tamayose is a Canadian author and artist of Japanese descent, so it comes as no surprise her new collection, Ezra’s Ghosts, reads at times like a cross between Noh theatre, Canadian literature, and Garcia Marquez on a good day. Grounded in the concrete details of life in Ezra, Tamayose weaves a selection of ghost narratives through a universe of academics, poetry, art, urban prairie life, contemporary social issues, and murder. The book is an exploration of, well, pretty much everything.
Tamayose’s style is contemplative, thoughtful, at times melancholy, but nevertheless manages a conversational tone that keeps the pages turning. The writing is poetic and multilayered, as befits the best of CanLit, but remains accessible and unpretentious. Tamayose’s voice provides a unique perspective on prairie life and second-generation immigrant experience that is exactly what CanLit needed.
The first selection, The Thesis, works well as an introduction to the cultural and metaphysical milieu of the collection and--if the motif is ultimately a little familiar--Tamayose’s style elevates it beyond the usual. I confess, despite a misspent youth immersed in The Twilight Zone, the story took me by surprise and had an emotional punch.
But it’s the second story, Ghostfly, that truly took away my breath. I loved every word and comma. I love the wordplay of the title—the ghost as “fly on the wall” and an allusion to fly-fishing. I loved the resigned, fatalistic pacing. I loved how the tiny, personal images slowly build up an intricate mosaic of family life and grief. There is a deep understanding here of the human psyche, academic culture, second-generation experience, and femicide. And, unlike much literary fiction, has a strong and satisfying narrative underlying and completing the structure. It’s the sort of story that ought to be taught in high school Language Arts because it is an exemplar of every element of fiction, even as it exudes a distinctively Canadian take on each. Canadian-style magic realism at its best.
The Ryukyuan is the surreal entry in the collection. My no-spoilers policy prevents me from saying more about that aspect, but the story revolves around a reporter dispatched to interview a 130-year-old Ryukyuan immigrant. It’s partly the story of the occupation of the Okinawa archipelago, partly about how Ryukyuan traditions (and by extension, all immigrants) contributed to the cultural and agricultural tapestry of Alberta, but mostly about grief and persistence in dealing with one’s ghosts.
Redux is SF, set in 2044, a world still in pandemic and rocked by random acts of terror. Our heroine has chosen to return to the Paris hotel that was significant for her and her late husband, an annual retreat since his passing she is now using to prep for her Ph.D. comprehensive exams. As with the others, the story is about memory and persistence in the face of grief and pieced together from the tiny everyday routines that create and bind our days. It’s quite lovely.
Any one of these stories could have made their mark in a literary journal or speculative fiction magazine but they appear to be all original to this volume. Everybody knows original collections don’t sell, so it is only exceptional work that is ever deemed worthy. The publisher was not wrong: this is a wonderful example of both the literary end of speculative fiction and the accessible end of Canlit. Great stuff, highly recommended.
Ezra’s Ghosts is published by NeWest Press.