I received Stephen Finucan’s first submission in 2013 with his short fiction “Aftermath.” It was one of those rare stories that garnered an immediate “yes” from the editorial board—a quiet voice, masterly writing. Style is often sidelined for the more graspable elements of character, content, or plot when talking about writing but, for me at least, it is that which pulls me in and often what I remember of a story. This was the way of Stephen’s work; while the characters lived quiet, sometimes angst-filled lives, the way in which the story was conveyed was like a storm slowly surging on the horizon, the charged air telling you that although little appears to be happening there is an undercurrent that is calling for your attention.
It wasn’t until I accepted the story that I realized Stephen and I had been at the University of East Anglia in England together in the mid-nineties—he in the Masters of Creative Writing strand, while I was doing an MA in Studies in Fiction. It was a small department and the classes were often open to both programs so although I didn’t know him well, I knew him. We each were the “other” Canadian in the department.
This fortuitous reunion with Stephen remained a rather tenuous connection driven by his subsequent submission and acceptance, the next one “To Carthage” in 2022. I was happy to see that his time at UEA had led to two collections and a novel being published, and our interaction when publishing his work in TNQ always gave me an uplift. And so I was all the more saddened when, after we accepted his latest story published in this issue “Turtle Mountain,” I learned that he had died. I don’t know if he fulfilled all the ambitions he had as a twenty-something student at UEA but, published books aside, in my mind his success is in the virtuosic writing, the contemplative stories that he crafted with care and precision, the mastering of his craft evident in all his work. His was writing I could settle into, and it held the lingering effect of all good literature.
As it happens, “Turtle Mountain” is the story of a reunion. Orchestrated by a past lover, the purpose of meeting is unclear until she reveals the circumstances in which is she is living. Tender and melancholic, the protagonist revisits their past relationship while navigating the uncertainties and expectations of this latest meeting. I wonder if Stephen was thinking about the all the restrictions life offers when writing this story, if he understood the necessity of reconnecting one last time.
Elsewhere in fiction we explore the reluctance of motherhood in David Hood’s “A New Look for Chea Rachana,” and the cultural attitudes and pressures that may shape life decisions in Katie Bickell’s “A Strange, Small Freedom.” Terry Doyle reveals the real cost of inflated food prices in “Strike,” while in Tricia Dower’s “Complicated” a young widow learns the unsettling truths of the underworld to which her husband was connected. Lena Schulman explores the strange world of later-in-life online dating in “Margaret,” and in “The Condolence Visit” a story by Oluwatoke Adejoye, a woman is confronted with her past when paying a visit to a neighbour whose husband has died. In Gillie Easdon’s “Slippery Mind Allegiance,” a son grapples with her mother’s aggressive behavior at a nursing home. The stress of parenthood is revealed in its early stages in Emma Williamson’s “You, on Your Thirty- Fifth Birthday,” and also in the later stages with adult children in Carol Bruneau’s “Flight Paths.” Finally, we have Michael Lithgow’s “Escape,” a meditation on failure, aging, war, pandemics, and friendships.
In nonfiction we have a return to our Soundings series with an essay by Lori Sebastianutti, who explores her Catholic upbringing in “Mother, Mary.” We also have the runners-up of our Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest including Chris Banks’ story of addiction “Black Hammers Falling” and Danica Longair’s complicated relationship with her in-laws in “Cantonese Lessons for a Foreign Daughter in Law.”
In poetry we are pleased to see the return of several poets to our pages including Steve McOrmond with “Long Weekend,” “You Fall Upward,” and “Seniors’ Day at Shoppers Drug Mart,” Susan Jane Atkinson with “In This We Find Ourselves,” “The Colour of Mo(u)rning,” and “A Peony, A Sun, And A Moon,” and Carolina Corcoran with “Bracket.”
Melinda Burns has also been previously published in our pages with her nonfiction work and here she brings us her poem “My Native Mother Mourns the Queen.” We welcome Shane Rhodes to our pages with the visual poem “It’s Here All The Beauty I Told You.”
Like all chance reunions there can follow a sense of regret, because having gained the contact you risk a deeper loss if it is severed again. The confused expectations portrayed in “Turtle Mountain” is an apt representation of what we sense in our own chance encounters. It is for us to understand that it is the meeting itself that needs to be cherished, not the looking back or looking forward. The thing is, we never really know if it will happen again.