All the Bears Sing: Stories
Review By Shirley McDonald
December 7, 2022
BC Studies no. 216 Winter 2022/23 | p. 145-146
All the Bears Sing is the third collection of stories by Harold Macy and reflects his maturity and experience as a writer. As his biographical information states, Macy was a silviculturist among his several other jobs in British Columbia’s forest industry. His stories, with their vernacular and tangible imagery, offer evidence of his work history. While some of Macy’s stories are like poetic vignettes about the natural world, offering phrases like “the earth lay hollow in its thirst” (11), many narratives are about labour, a theme common to the poems of Tom Wayman and to Gary Geddes’s Falsework, a poem about the collapse of Vancouver’s Second Narrows Bridge in 1958; and like Geddes’s Falsework, which John Gilmore praises for its vivid, visceral, and even “primal” images, images that “hook right into those gut wrenching sensations: falling, entrapment, drowning, suffocation” (book cover), Macy’s narratives are spiked with tension. Their startling grotesque elements and surprise endings elicit out-loud responses. One example is “Into the Silverthrone Caldera”, a narrative about logging on a steep mountain slope. The first few stories appear to be based on Macy’s life experiences, but the collection is not entirely autobiographical. That expectation is shattered when the next few are narrated by a young girl living in a northern rural community, by a mother and wife, and by a grandmother, and we realize that many of the stories are pure fiction. Some are sad, some end with relief or happiness; however, all of them offer profound insights into common personal experiences and plight. With wit and wisdom, Macy alludes to cultural transformations and periods and to social problems, and while he is, at times, a bit didactic, he reflects on human foibles without cynicism or derision. Rather, he writes with compassion about the misfits, outcasts, and recluses who live in logging and mining towns. In “Delta Charlie,” he shows understanding for the less-than-fortunate who “live on abandoned road allowances, bush camps and common lands throughout the province – victims of a collapsing primary economy poorly replaced by McJobs and seasonal service or retail work” (70). While we may have heard about such people, Macy’s stories help us feel what it is like to be them.
The collection of stories is deftly ordered. Right from the start, we encounter the exquisiteness of Macy’s writing with sentence after sentence of alluring metaphors, and the stories that follow wholly satisfy the expectations formed by first impressions. A few, like “The Sweet-Talking Ladies in the White Trailer” and “Beyond Yuquot” are short poetic vignettes. “Lipstick” is very short but packs a punch in a few words. Rare are the stories that elicit gasps or laughter. “Lipstick” and “House, Waving Good-bye”, which is a lengthy and deep narrative, are two of them. “Overburdened” is the longest story in the collection. It is dense with coastal geological information which is, perhaps, further evidence of Macy’s off the grid employment. The story is a page-turner. Yet, it ends with a satisfying reassurance that humanity and justice are still in our midst. Any more information than this will spoil the surprises. Just read it!
Macy, Harold. All the Bears Sing: Stories. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2022. 256 pp. $24.95 paper.