There is a reason Guy Vanderhaege has two Governor General awards for fiction. The fact that they are for two different fiction types – short story and novel – makes him even more impressive. With Daddy Lenin and Other Stories he returns to the literary form that launched his career.
Each of the nine stories gives off a tone of bittersweet reflection, an air of melancholy nostalgia. Not that the stories are sad per se, but they don’t give off happy ending either. Vanderhaege believes that that is simply a product of himself growing, more reflective, and just having lived a longer fuller life. Additionally many of the stories take place in small towns and, those that tell the stories of adolescence, often take place in the 60s and 70s. Again, easy for Vanderhaege to tap into given that he was that age on that era.
There is an ease and effortlessness with which he writes. The simple, character-driven tales draw you in with every word, every speech pattern his characters utter. It was a pleasure to be taken back to another time; one that was more relaxed and in many ways, free.
Two stories that stood out for me were Koenig and Company and 57 Chevy Bel-Air mainly because I could feel part of the teenage characters in me and know what it is like to be that age. Every story was superb, I just don’t yet know what it is like to be a 60 something semi-retired actor. But then presumably, neither does Guy Vanderhaege.
Finally, Daddy Lenin has a distinctly Canadian feel to this book, even if it is hard to pinpoint exactly what that is. Still, the stories are fantastic pieces of work by a phenomenal literary master