It must be the proximity to Canada Day, but I feel rather nostalgic for all things Canadian at the moment. Flipping through my reading journal, I came across an entry for a rather good collection of stories by a broadcaster on the CBC called Stuart McLean. He has a radio show called Vinyl Cafe, and one of the weekly features is a new tale about a regular family to which sometimes irregular things happen. These people, Dave, Morley, Stephanie, Sam, Galway the cat and Arthur the dog, have become neighbours and friends to those who listen to McLean’s weekend radio show. And it’s not just that these stories will make you howl with laughter (listening to Dave Cooks the Turkey almost made me drive off the road one Christmas holiday), they also make you think about how much you value your own family, because they love each other so very much, imperfections and all.
I think what makes them so funny, and so touching, is the closeness of the observations of their daily lives. It makes you look at your own life, and think, ‘Do I really do anything quite so ridiculous as that?’, to which the answer is, ‘Of course I do. I just didn’t look at it that way before.’ For example, Dave has perfectly good reasons for wanting to toilet train the cat (as anyone who has experienced letting a cat in and out of the house in the dead of night during a Canadian winter will know), but observed by McLean, his efforts are incredible at times, but also endearing because they are, well, quite logical when you think about it. And although Morley is, in many ways, a long-suffering wife she also has some quirks. What mother can’t identify with the envy she feels when faced with someone else’s ‘perfect’ children? And what mother does not then feel the urge to make her own offspring perfect? The paper plates and glued-down corners of bedsheets which result are her own fault…
One of the things that amazes me about McLean’s writing is his ability to pick up on a deatil of someone’s life and then change the course of the story so that the detail is just the start of a much larger adventure for the main characters. The story which starts with Dave toilet training the cat is actually about Brenda, Dave’s cousin, and not really about Dave’s struggle with Galway at all. It does not surprise me at all that McLean now teaches writing at a university in Toronto.
Unfortunately, I only own one of the collections of these wonderful stories, but there are now four. All of them are available in Canada, of course, but I could only find two on Amazon.co.uk. Please read them – they are warmhearted stories that are sure to leave you feeling better after a hard day.