Book review: Vancouverite Don McLellan’s road stories entertain, educate, challenge readers

McLellan’s polished short stories in Ouch: 20 Stories are noir in tone, deeply felt and exquisitely well observed

Article content

Ouch: 20 Stories

By Don McLellan, Page Count Press (Vancouver, 2020)

$20 | 285pp.


If the old writers’ workshop injunction, “Write what you know” has any merit, Vancouver author Don McLellan is entitled to write about nearly everything.

The writer, whose new book of short stories Ouch was published last year, knows a lot.

He has travelled widely and worked as a journalist and ESL teacher in such exotic locales as Hong Kong, Korea and Vancouver. (At the Vancouver Sun, the tyro journalist shared a newsroom for a few years with iconic newsmen like Alan Fotheringham and Max Wyman. He also wrote for the Georgia Straight in its early incarnation as an alternative paper.)

McLellan has edited a specialized trade magazine and written for English-language papers in the Third World. Early in his life, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, he hitchhiked extensively in the U.S. and Mexico.

Unlike the too-often solipsistic Kerouac, however, McLellan paid close, detailed attention to the people he met and the stories they told him during his travels. His literary fiction reflects those observations.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

His polished short stories in Ouch are noir in tone, deeply felt and exquisitely well observed. At its best, McLellan’s prose reads like a blend of Dashiell Hammett’s mean-street realism and Kafka’s dire and mythic fables. Whether he is chronicling a Third World atrocity in The Massacre of the Innocents or revisiting memories of his hard-scrabble childhood and adolescence in Vancouver’s Eastside in the elegiac and tender A Few Bad Apples, McLellan always brings his keen observer’s eye and spare, polished prose to bear on the stories he has to tell.

Like many writers inspired by the noir fictions of the 20th century, McLellan understands the world largely through the lens of class. While never polemical or strident, the author’s gimlet-eyed sense of the “hidden injuries of class” informs these stories and provides a context for the losses and adventures of his louche and often wounded characters.

While the wounds inflicted by sexism and racism are present throughout this collection, class is the primary matrix of power and privilege in McLellan’s version of the world. Some readers, including this reviewer, will regret that the author failed to give more attention to the other structures of power that intersect with and nuance the impacts of class. That said, this collection reflects a serious writer at the top of his powers, grappling with difficult material and telling stories of resonant human significance.

Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos665@telus.net

More On This Topic

  1. Read more about books and authors

  2. The latest Metro Vancouver arts news

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email vantips@postmedia.com.

News Near Exeter, Grand Bend and area

This Week in Flyers