A Book of Great Worth
Coteau Books April 2012, 250 pp. $18.95 CDN
Reviewed by: James Onusko
Dave Margoshes’s collection of short stories is a wonderful blend of family history, story-telling, and urban myth focusing on New York City. Woven throughout this collection is humour mixed with poignancy that gives the collection a general feeling of genuineness and warmth.
Margoshes has an impressive publishing record as he has written and published several books of prose, volumes of poetry and non-fiction texts. He has also done work for CBC and has read from his work extensively. In addition to all of this, he’s been a journalist for numerous newspapers and taught journalism. He has lived in several cities and currently calls Saskatoon home.
The author takes us on journey through the early part of the twentieth century in the Big Apple’s Lower East side. We meet numerous characters that come in and out of his father’s life. There is a profound exploration of humanity including our strengths, individual warts and collective failings. Many of the stories leave you wanting to continue on the characters’ journeys and following them down their meandering paths.
In the following excerpt, Margoshes’s father is speaking with some children whom he was hired to teach Yiddish to as a young man:
“Yes,” said my father, “and that’s why it’s so important that you should meet your grandparents now, while you have the chance. They’re old.”
“And is it true that Mommy hasn’t seen her Mommy and Daddy for years and years?”
“That’s right, Estella.” My father took the little girl in his arms. “Do you ever get mad at Mommy? Or at Daddy?”
My father smiled. “And you, Benjy?”
“And do you sometimes get so mad you think, ‘I wish they were dead,’ or think about running away and never coming home, just to show them, to make them feel bad/”
The children pouted. Esther sucked her thumb. My father gently tugged at her hand until it came away. “Tell the truth now.”
“Sometimes,” Benjy said.
“times,” Esther echoed.
“You have to be careful what you wish for,” my father said. “Sometimes wishes come true and you can’t take them back.”
“Is that what Mommy did?” Esther asked.
“What do you think?” my father asked.
Margoshes’s writing is revealing and filled with great care. He is a born teacher but his writing never falls into being preachy. With a less skilled writer, it would feel like pontificating but that feeling of being spoken to is never an issue. The author invites us to participate in these wondrous tales and we are left to wonder where truths meet realities and vice versa. He has a wonderful ear that is demonstrated time and time again with his exquisite dialogue.
There was not much to quibble with here. Because it is such an eclectic mix of stories, some readers may find it disconcerting, at times, to be reading consecutive stories that bear little relationship to each other. One specific story that painted a richer picture of New York City in this period would have provided some additional context for those readers that may have not read much if anything about this period. Margoshes may be giving his readers too much latitude at times in assuming there is a shared knowledge of landscape and time.
These are trifling in the entire assessment. This collection of stories is filled with love, wisdom and beauty. While not all of the stories are uplifting, their rawness, at times, is what keeps the reader engaged for the entire collection. Readers will not be disappointed with this fine book.
*A copy of A Book of Great Worth was sent to me to read and review. It was not purchased.