cover image Agassiz: A Novel in Stories

Agassiz: A Novel in Stories

Sandra Birdsell. Milkweed Editions, $18.95 (346pp) ISBN 978-0-915943-61-6

This beautifully crafted assemblage of 23 stories chronicles the sometimes joyful, often difficult lives of the Lafreniere family of Agassiz, Manitoba. Canadian novelist Birdsell begins with the first generation--Maurice and his wife, Mika--and their ever-growing brood of children, shifting her narrative focus among these characters to provide alternate perspectives on family personalities and relationships. We see how Maurice's French and Indian heritages burden him with an inexpressible sense of social inferiority, how Mika's frustrations collide with her daughters' needs to pursue their own identities. As the collection progresses, Birdsell overlaps the experiences of several generations, with details provided earlier serving as essential background for a colorful, highly textured collage. Eventually the daughters, now grown, cope with adult problems and with the crises of their own offspring. Each piece is a model of economy; cumulatively, they resonate with the unsparing power of a memory mediated only by art. (Apr.)