ROBERTS, Sarah




Author Tags: Fiction

The debut story collection by UVic Creative Writing graduate Sarah Roberts of Gibsons, Wax Boats (Caitlin 2009 $17.95) won the $10,000 Danuta Gleed Award for the best first English-language collection of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2009. Judges Ivan E. Coyote, Mary Soderstrom, and David Bezmozgis said “Roberts exhibits tremendous versatility, writing movingly and convincingly in every conceivable voice--of the men and women, girls and boys, natives and whites who inhabit her fictional Smokecrest Island. There are stories here of loss and renewal, of strange adventures, and of acts of profound kindness. The prose is clear and evocative and flawless. Roberts is a truly gifted storyteller and Wax Boats is a mature and ambitious work of literature. It is a Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town for the modern age.”

Wax Boats mainly concerns the action within a rural island community on the West Coast. Roberts has acknowledged her teachers Jack Hodgins, Pat Lane and Andreas Schroeder, as well as editors and friends Nadine Petersen and Patricia Wolfe, with significant nod of appreciation to the Hammond family, "the finest clan of writers/heroes/artists I have ever known." Her Sunshine Coast stories of rough-hewn characters are within the local tradition of Dick Hammond's oral narratives and the television hijinks of The Beachcombers.

978-1-894759-40-3

[BCBW 2010] "Fiction"

Wax Boats (Caitlin $17.95)
Review


from Cherie Thiessen
What constitutes a life well lived? That’s the main question at the heart of Sarah Roberts’ first anthology of short stories, Wax Boats, winner of the $10,000 Danuta Gleed Award for the best first English-language collection of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2009.

A second integral question within this unpretentiously packaged collection may well be: how does living in a small island community shape lives and choices?

“An island is a miracle, a simple thing,” writes Roberts. “To be cut off is somehow to be entirely whole, and to know your boundaries is to truly know yourself.”

Roberts’ dozen stories in Wax Boats are vibrant with the “genius of place,” to borrow a term from Ethel Wilson, as well as memorable characterization. Somewhat reminiscent of Kinsella’s ‘rez’ characters or Anne Cameron’s mélange of wacky west coast families, the stories reveal a complicated world of boats, beach camping, wild bush women and men, ancient lore, longhouses, cougars and beer.

In the delightful first story, He Knows Where to Find Water, Cat, reluctant to be born, is finally coaxed into the world by a bevy of First Nation wise women while her father gets plastered along with his boss and his friend, and all wind up having breakfast on the reservation.

In Cougar Ladies, the ageing Mabel takes a cold shower and heads over the mountains to town to get ‘laid’ for the first time, while her sister, left behind in their wilderness cabin, gets stalked by a cougar.

In Tully’s Fish, we meet young Thomas and his father, out to catch the big one, but almost getting caught themselves. Some may find this story’s stylistic departure somewhat jarring, but mythical or otherwise it’s such a good tale and so well told that most readers will not object.

Some stories are bound to resonate more than others with readers. For me, the wise and understated title story, Wax Boats, placed at the end of the collection, was my favourite. Once the island’s most important and respected figure as owner of the quarry, and now alone and ready for death, Old Man Bridgework, as the locals who remember him at all call him, learns a valuable lesson from a youth. It’s the old man’s openness to lessons that endears him to the reader.

Roberts’ viewpoints ricochet between several characters and voices, divisible by those who have stayed on the island (Cat, Thomas, Bridgework) contrasted with those who left, (Ralphie, Pauline.) Who wins? Who has made the better choice? It is impossible to know for certain.

Wayne, the narrator in Wild Birds, seems almost out of place in this collection due to his niceness. This one story involving an undercover agent struck me as contrived.

Humorous, sad, sometimes insightful and occasionally simplistic, Wax Boats will have many guessing what island these characters could possibly inhabit. Is it Texada, with its large quarries? Is it Hornby? On the other hand, the author could just be waxing poetic. Wherever they are set, Roberts has new horizons. She now has a literary agent, John Pearce of the Westwood Agency, and a bright future for herself.

The judges for the Danuta Gleed Award were Ivan E. Coyote, Mary Soderstrom, and David Bezmozgis. In their collective statement, they have written, “Roberts exhibits tremendous versatility, writing movingly and convincingly in every conceivable voice—of the men and women, girls and boys, natives and whites who inhabit her fictional Smokecrest Island. There are stories here of loss and renewal, of strange adventures, and of acts of profound kindness. The prose is clear and evocative and flawless. Roberts is a truly gifted storyteller and Wax Boats is a mature and ambitious work of literature. It is a Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town for the modern age.”
978-1-894759-40-3

[BCBW 2010]