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Taylor, Richard.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1984. 106pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-548-1 (cloth) $17.95,0-88750-550-3 (paper) $9.95.

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by James Kingstone

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Richard Taylor's first collection of short stories is a delicate, poetic, impressionistic evocation that shows unusual sensitivity. His prose is supple and engaging. One cannot really call his pieces stories, though one or two of his longer 'moments' fit the definition of a short story.

Tender Only To One is a series of letters, epiphanies (to borrow from Joyce) and glimpses into the shining depths of life. This modest work defies categorization, but that is unimportant, since the reader is drawn ineluctably into each piece. In "Isabel," a young man returns through a rich and comforting landscape to see a friend:

Walking slowly, the fence begins here as a series of old stumps with weathered swirls the chipmunks tunnel through. A set of tires has left deep ruts in the mud. This is the part of the fence he likes best: the logs are covered with an emerald moss that feels like cool velvet. Farther along, the fence is broken with missing logs.

And then later:

There is a nice view of the blond wavy meadow with two dying elms at the far end that must be the oldest trees within miles. Dead vines hang off the trees like grass skirts.

But all of Taylor's pieces are not consoling. His offering includes a host of characters whose lives are characterized by disappointment, anxiety, frustration-all manner of feelings and experiences which enervate and draw from the shuddering spirit a tiny cry of help. In "Bonnard and Marthe" we see the scars of war as an old man battles his past. He is haunted by a portrait of his wife. "The old man sat up in bed squinting at his wife who shimmered over the wall, and without a sound, his heart gently imploded." This is the final line of the story, and it stays with the reader many moments and provokes a rereading. Old age is limned for us in many ways, until a line like, "taps dripped undetected all over the house," conveys the feeling of emptiness, of not being able to get to something that is just out of reach and will forever remain so.

Tender Only To One has one compelling advantage: it is a work that can be read in one sitting. The rapid first-read laid, at least for this reader, the foundation for subsequent (and almost immediate) re-readings. There are pieces which vibrate with ambiguity-the point of view is often quite unexpected—but that is really part of the charm. Taylor has a remarkably light touch as I hope the above quotations demonstrate, and for that reason, I believe, deserves to be read thoroughly and with care.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ont.
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