Hynes sounds good in person or print

Joan Sullivan
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Say Nothing Saw Wood
Joel Thomas Hynes
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
$15.95; 64 pages

“Say Nothing Saw Wood” has been staged three times as a one-actor script, and also recorded and released by Rattling Books. It’s interesting, then, to encounter it purely as text on a page.

It’s hard to disassociate this from writer/actor Joel Thomas Hynes’ distinctive physical voice and performance — but then, why bother? There’s a lyric authenticity to that presence that can be felt on the pages here. At the same time, though, everything does start with the word.

In his Author’s Note, Hynes refers to a murder in his home town of Calvert in the 1970s, which gave him the kernel of this story, although “Say Nothing” is not a recounting of that crime. Coupled with the community resonance of that violence is Hynes’ own pell-mell, rackety life as a teenager, when he had left school and found himself often in juvenile court. He had no real plans or boundaries, and one day he flicked a rock in the air, just for idleness, and it almost hit a little girl. By fate or luck, it didn’t.

This got Hynes to thinking about actions and ramifications, and was the genesis of the central character here, Jude Shannon Traynor.

We know from the start of the play that Jude has done something violent: “Tomorrow’s the fifteenth. Twelve years to the day I was shipped off to Dorchester. Life-seven. Non-capital murder.” We even learn soon who the victim is. This is not a murder mystery in that sense. The question is not what happened, but why.

Explaining this, Jude takes us through his life: the loss of his mother, then his father; his living with his uncle Angus, a hard ticket living partly from fishing, but mostly from dealing; the run-ins with the Mounties.

The only person who really cares for Jude is Mrs. Alfreda Jacks. She lives by herself, and there are stories. Like, she might be a witch. She can be called on as a midwife, or to cure sick animals. She looks after Jude, takes him in when Angus is on a bad tear, or in jail. She teaches Jude how to hunt, and to read. And she knows a lot about his family. In fact, she’s been part of Jude’s story from the very beginning.

Her connection to Jude salvages him, but dooms him, too.

“Say Nothing” is fiction, but it almost reads more like Hynes’ non-fiction in “Straight Razor Days” — it has a straightforward matter-of-factness about it (not that Hynes is ever a fussbudget writer), and it feels very real. The presentation is lovely, with a neat, square chapbook format, and the cover and other illustrations are by Gerald L. Squires.

Strays: Stories

Killick Press

$18.95; 200 pages

Ed Kavangh’s first short story collection includes 10 pieces, each about a dozen pages, excepting the last, “The Strayaway Child,” which runs about 60. About half are told from the perspective of children, with others viewed through the eyes of an ambitious young woman, and old lady recalling her childhood, or a hapless thief.

Generally, the strongest stories have a young protagonist. Kavanagh is good at constructing that shifting negotiation of awareness and vulnerability, curiosity and backbone. In the titular story, Callie, a foster kid moving through a series of homes, is a decent and resilient sort. She longs for companionship, but knows some real deep-rooted friendship is not likely to develop, as circumstances are beyond her control and her address is subject to change.

The best company, the best listener, she can imagine would be a dog. Most girls her age are into horses, but not Callie:

To me, horses are just totally horses. The only way you can talk to a horse is if you’re another horse. And I’ll bet even then they don’t say much. I mean, did you ever see a horse standing out in a meadow and hardly moving an inch except to nibble grass and flick at flies with its tail … side by side like statues. For hours.

One day she sees a student from her school, not a regular student but a “little-bus” student, walking a miniature collie.

She thinks the dog is beautiful, and tries to find out more about it. It seems a simple narrative, but Kavanagh skillfully packed in issues of belonging and family and this keeps the stakes high.

Of the other pieces, “Seagull Dreams” is more impressionistic, “Pot of Gold” a heist-gone-wrong romp, “Wind” a nice coming-of-age piece following a university student living away for the first time.

“The Red Merc” and “Children Green and Golden” are particular standouts. In the latter, a group of children try to save a dog suspected of killing sheep; in the former, a son remembers his dad. “Like I say, the old man didn’t usually have a regular job like most fathers. He’d try it every now and then, but it never stuck. People said he was too nice. That probably sounds funny, but it was true.”

Both these stories run only 11 pages, but are full of grit and snap.

Joan Sullivan is a St. John’s-based journalist and editor

of The Newfoundland Quarterly.

Her column returns Jan. 11.

Organizations: StoriesKillick Press

Geographic location: Dorchester

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