Daddy Lenin by Guy Vanderhaeghe – book review

by Edith Cody-Rice
Daddy Lenin 001I chose this book because I will read anything by Guy Vanderhaeghe. He is a wonderful, lyrical writer and recorder of Canadian history in the west. His trilogy of novels about the Canadian and American west, The Englishman’s Boy, the Last Crossing and A Good Man tell stories about our history few other writers have approached with such skill. The Englishman’s Boy and the Last Crossing won numerous national and international awards.

Vanderhaeghe is a westerner himself, having been born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan and educated entirely in that province. In fact, he has spent his entire life in the landscape he chronicles and now lives in Saskatoon.

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories is not Vanderhaeghe’s first foray into the short story. His first acclaimed work  Man Descending (1982), which won a Governor General’s Award and the United Kingdom’s Faber Prize, is a collection of short stories. He then moved on to novels with a smattering of other short story collections interspersed until 1992 and now, after a 23 year hiatus, he has returned to this quintessentially Canadian form.Canadians have always had a special place in the short story world, Alice Munro being only the latest of our short story writers to gain admiration.

Daddy Lenin is a collection of nine stories. The title of the book is taken from the last story in which a man of retirement age accidentally runs into a formerly charismatic university professor who had a profound, not very positive influence on his life.

The stories are beautifully written. Several of them deal with the relationship between young men and women, teenagers really. In one, a daughter of a slovenly family unexpectedly turns out extremely well and becomes famous, while the young man who was clearly her social superior in childhood leads a disappointing life. In several. trash talking women split up families of the young men they attract, sometimes for ultimate good in terms of career, sometimes not. The women all disappear in the end, leaving the men to their fates.

The one quibble I have is that in several cases, the endings are really unsatisfying. I do not mean by that statement that there is no resolution, for it is a technique to let life go on after the story without resolution, but it is almost as though, having concentrated on the process of the story, Vanderhaeghe just wanted to wrap them up. Nonetheless, any book by Guy Vanderhaeghe is a worthwhile read, although his novels are, to me, truly his finest work.

Daddy Lenin is published by McClelland and Stewart