Vancouver Stories: Nancy Lee and Alice Munro

Ailsa Cox

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Nancy Lee is a young, Vancouver-based writer, born in the UK, with Chinese and Indian ancestry. The stories in her first collection, Dead Girls (2002), are loosely connected by the presence in the city of a serial killer, prefiguring the capture of Robert Pickton in the year of publication. The recurring figure of the fictional murderer, Thomas Coombes, both repels and fascinates Lee’s female protagonists. Realist depictions of everyday life in East Vancouver - high school fundraisers, community art projects, homelessness and prostitution – are underscored by the evocation of heightened interior states, shaped by fantasy, sex and mood-altering substances. Alice Munro (b.1931) needs no introduction as Canada’s most influential short story writer, and a figure achieving canonical status. Her work is most frequently associated with her home territory, in small town, semi-rural Ontario, but it has also set many of her stories in British Columbia, especially in the more recent collections. For Munro, the landscape of inlets and offshore islands round Vancouver embodies a diffuse and quickly changing reality, bringing seduction, duplicity and danger. Vancouver has been constructed as the archetypal postmodern city in late twentieth century fiction by William Gibson, Douglas Coupland and other male writers. This chapter examines the female encounter with postcolonial Vancouver, which simulataneously develops and contests that version of the city as simulacrum. Both Lee’s ‘Dead Girls’ and Munro’s ‘Silence’ (Runaway, 2004) centre on the figure of an absent daughter, who has severed all connections with her family. While other personal ties, especially sexual relationships are seen as, inevitably, fleeting, the irrecoverable breach with the daughter seems utterly intolerable for both mothers. I relate images of dismemberment and severance in Dead Girls, to the fracturing of connections between self and other, including family structures and sexual encounters; and link these themes to the reconfiguration of communities in the postcolonial city.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Postcolonial Short Story
    EditorsM. Awadalla, P. March-Russel
    Place of PublicationBasingstoke
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    Number of pages240
    ISBN (Print)9781137226693
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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