Author Tags: Fiction
Kelowna-based author of Mennonites Don’t Dance. Thistledown Press
ISBN 978-1-897235-78-2 $18.95; 180 pages
Mennonites Don't Dance
By Portia Priegert
A passionate cook and fiction writer, Darcie Friesen Hossack is about to open the oven on something that really sticks to the ribs – her first collection of short stories.
Hossack, who writes about food for newspapers in Kelowna and Kamloops, is the author of Mennonites Don’t Dance, a collection of 11 short stories about family life.
Set mainly on the prairies, the stories explore sin, penance and redemption as well as the conflicts between tradition and change. But there’s also food – plates and plates of it.
“The thing that makes me really excited is when I am writing fiction about food,” says Hossack. “People will find that although the stories are stories there’s so much food infused into them. I didn’t include recipes but I considered it. There’s a lot of cooking. There’s a lot of eating. There’s not wanting to learn how to cook.
“To me, being Mennonite is so much about the food that I don’t know how I could ever separate it. And if it wasn’t in my writing, I don’t think it would have the depth that I want it to have.”
Hossack, who lives in Kelowna, credits her success in part to the Humber School for Writers in Toronto, where she was mentored through the correspondence program by Sandra Birdsell, a finalist for the Giller Prize, one of Canada’s top literary awards.
Birdsell, in a publicity blurb for the book’s cover, praises Hossack, who shares her Mennonite heritage.
“Hossack’s stories reverberate with what has been left unsaid, the silence between people that speaks of betrayal, forgiveness and the power of love to prevail,” she says. “This is a fine debut by a very promising writer.”
There’s no shortage of notable Canadian writers of Mennonite descent – people like Miriam Toews, Rudy Wiebe and Andreas Schroeder, who also contributed a blurb praising Hossack’s writing as vivid and breathtaking.
“Uncompromising and often devastating, the stories in this collection prove the title true – both literally and metaphorically – but these very constraints make the stories’ hard-won moments of joy and insight especially memorable,” writes Schroeder, who was short-listed for a Governor General’s Award in non-fiction.
Hossack, 35, who spent a decade crafting the stories, is thrilled.
“As a first-time writer, I’m happy to jump on those coat-tails,” she says, adding that Mennonite writers often deal with universal themes like family relationships or the impact of religious beliefs.
“They seem to write about it just with this raw honesty. They don’t cover it in flowers. They don’t try to engineer it. They don’t try to steer it toward a conclusion. They usually have no conclusion at the end. It’s not preachy in either direction. It’s the way Mennonites are – they are simple, honest, often very funny, people.”
For the book, Hossack uses her mother’s maiden name, Friesen, as a middle name to honour her Mennonite heritage. Her family came to Canada five generations ago and farmed at Schoenfeld, a small Mennonite village in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Hossack grew up nearby in Swift Current and had a relatively mainstream childhood, living with her mother and attending public schools, but was exposed to traditional culture through her grandparents.
She moved to the Okanagan as a teenager, joining her father and finishing high school here. She has been married to her high-school sweetheart, Dean, now executive chef at the Okanagan Golf Club, for 16 years.
Apart from writing food columns for the Kelowna Courier and Kamloops This Week, Hossack spends much of her time at home working on her fiction.
She has published stories in small magazines and was twice a finalist in the Okanagan Short Fiction Contest.
Her next project is a novel, What Looks In, which explores a family divided by grief and religion.
Like Mennonites Don’t Dance, the book has its roots in Hossack’s lived experience. Her father was Seventh-Day Adventist while her mother was Mennonite.
“The two ideologies, although they’re both Protestant, don’t mix very well. So in the book, they don’t mix very well. But hopefully, by the time I come to the end, there will be some kind of meeting of hearts or, I suppose, meeting of souls and the family is able to come together.”