Card Drawn: Ace of Hearts
Guy Vanderhaege strikes me as a humble and sincere type of writer, someone who exhibits quiet restraint with a penchant for intimate portraits of human relationships. Perhaps such observations are presumptuous on my part; since, my only exposure to his writing is the short-story Ray taken from the excellent collection of Canadian Short Stories compiled by Jane Urquhart, but Vanderhaege's slice-of-life story evokes these particular qualities that feels distinctively Canadian. To a certain extent, the soft-spoken mildness and elegant simplicity of his aesthetic is reminiscent of Alice Munro but here one gets the recognizable impression that Vanderhaege is attempting to branch away from his Canadian influences and establish his own authorial voice. Having only just been introduced to this author, it is impossible for me to determine just what exactly constitutes his artistic vision and literary sensibilities without succumbing to some specious argument. Nonetheless, Ray is indicative of an author in the nascent stages of developing his craft, whose keen observation of human experience is deeply introspective and who seems capable of delivering heart-felt stories.
This story begins in medias res, the titular character and his wife engaged in a heated argument. Ray is perturbed by the whole situation because not only is this the first major fight between the couple but revolves around sensitive subject matter: his childhood memories associated with his father. They live in a small unnamed rural town and while Ray is fairly content concerning their current living conditions, his wife feels differently. She is restless and frustrated; feels her youth slipping away, her married life not living up to her idealized expectations. Essentially, she is bored of this dull existence and wants more than this little town has to offer. The narrative consists mainly of a long flashback, switching intermittently back and forth from Ray's reflections on childhood to the present time where his marriage seems on the precipice of disaster. Vanderhaege purposefully avoids trite nostalgia and sentimentality and there is a hint of irony here since Ray's wife accosts him for indulging in these very same self-delusions about growing up in loving home with his father. Of course, he denies such allegations, looking back on his younger days with fondness, especially the relationship with his father. The fallibility of memories and how we choose to remember the past is of great importance to the story.
The effective use of subtlety and tacitness are two important elements of the short-story. However, Vanderhaege decides to eschew with these common principles in favor of a more blunt approach but is unable to pull it off successfully. The end result is a story that is far too "on the nose" with obtrusive symbolism that comes across as contrived. While sometimes prosaic and at other times on the verge of achieving something substantial, the story never quite maintains a semblance of wholeness. Thus, while a quick and interesting enough read, Ray will unlikely linger in my mind for very long.