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Making Light of Tragedy [Paperback]

Jessica Grant

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Book Description

Sept. 15 2004

Jessica Grant flies under the radar of realism to find targets worth writing about. These stories are profound, magical and true to life. Nothing seems impossible. It's good to be reminded of that.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Porcupine's Quill (Sept. 15 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0889842531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0889842533
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 14.1 x 22 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #267,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

In her debut collection of stories, Jessica Grant displays a real gift for making light of tragedy. If that doesn't sound like much of a compliment, another way to phrase it might be making lightness from tragedy. A native of St. John's, Newfoundland, now based in Calgary (and a member along with Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, and others of St. John's remarkable Burning Rock writer's collective), Grant treats the disasters and mishaps that befall her characters not with ridicule but a wry sense of humour and a considerable amount of sympathy. That much is clear in "Cleave," the story that contains the title of Grant's book. One character, who is dressed for Halloween as Virginia Woolf, explains how two women in his office came to a meeting in the guise of "those conjoined twins from Iran." As you might expect, the costume is deemed to be in very poor taste. "The VP of distribution admonished the twins for making light of tragedy," writes Grant. The character later finds one of the women crying in the mezzanine, stroking the wigs. "But no one understands," she tells him. "I loved the conjoined twins from Iran. The night of their operation in Singapore, I kept vigil. When they died, a piece of me died too."

Grant's characters often express their grief or heartbreak in unusual ways. In "Plow Man," a man channels his pain over the loss of his wife into a strange fixation with snow plows. In "My Husband's Jump"--the Journey Prize winner for the best Canadian short story of 2004--the wife of a famous ski jumper who inexplicably vanished in mid-air copes with her pain by finding God, a development she likens to inheriting a "very large Saint Bernard." ("What I would feed him?" she wonders. "Where would he sleep? Could he cure me of loneliness, bring me a hot beverage when I was sick?") Melancholy, gentle, and mildly surreal, the stories in Making Light of Tragedy rarely fail to impress. Only in the longer stories--"The Loss of Thalia" and "Milaken," each of which describes a thorny tangle of relationships from multiple points of view--do her ambitions nearly get the better of her. But even then, Grant is capable of creating moments of sudden grace and clarity, times when there's very little separating the tragic from the comic. --Jason Anderson

Review

'The majority of these stories ... take only a few paragraphs to assume a vivid largeness. Their worlds feel, if not always lived in, at least concrete. Happily, the book ends on a peak with "Milaken", the longest and most intimate story. Revolving around the rock-climbing title character whose father named her after his favourite brand of cement, the story highlights the greatest strengths of Grant's writing. The story is observant, playful, and empathetic. As the characters ask themselves if they would be willing to sever one of their arms and leave it trapped under a boulder forever just to go on living, we glimpse the varied ways the question echoes through their lives. Here Grant draws resonance from the hypothetical. Her rewarding excursions into this protean realm make for a promising debut.'

(Stewart Cole Quill and Quire)

`Grant's Making Light of Tragedy is a book for the eclectic coffee shop, preferably midday when the café is busy and chances are good that you'll bump into someone who is curious about what you are reading -- because you will want to talk about some, if not all, of the twenty-three stories.'

(Lisa Grekul event)

`This collection is worth the purchase price for the opening story alone: a wife's tale of her ski-jumper husband, who takes off in Olympic competition and just never comes down, in a scant six pages meditating touchingly and amusingly on faith, science, the media and love. Twenty-two more brief, compelling, smart and funny stories follow. Their subjects range from the nature of ugliness to the lengths one man will go to avoid shoveling snow; their wit and heart, and Grant's abundant skill, are reminiscent of the author's fellow Newfoundlander Lorrie Moore.'

(The Ruminator)

`Making Light of Tragedy is aptly titled; its stories are sharp, observant and a great pleasure to read, and their mostly serious subject matter is thoroughly skewered. Grant has delivered an impressive debut. This is a provocative and engaging collection that left this writer wanting more.'

(Nancy Jo Cullen Alberta Views)

`Making Light of Tragedy is a stunning debut from Jessica Grant, who gets my vote for most promising short story writer in Canada. The book collects 23 short stories and recalls in some respects the wonderful stories of David Arnason, though Grant's writing is much less fantastical and also more concerned with character. The stories are smart, funny, and even sweet at moments without becoming saccharine. There is also a certain degree of arrogance to the prose and on the part of the many first-person narrators. It's a welcoming, self-assured sort of arrogance, the kind that is sorely lacking in too much Canadian fiction.'

(Jonathan Ball Prairie Fire)

`Jessica Grant (my favourite literary discovery of the year) might well be the freshest, most distinctive and original voice in the country.'

(Chad Pelley Salty Ink)

`Jessica Grant's stories have a habit of cutting the legs out from under you, but they mean no harm. They just want to live under your skin for a while. Roll around in them, play with them like a lottery winner with a bathtub full of money.'

(Lee Shedden The Calgary Herald)

`In her debut collection of stories, Jessica Grant displays a real gift for making light of tragedy. If that doesn't sound like much of a compliment, another way to phrase it might be making lightness from tragedy. A native of St. John's, Newfoundland, now based in Calgary (and a member along with Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, and others of St. John's remarkable Burning Rock writer's collective), Grant treats the disasters and mishaps that befall her characters not with ridicule but a wry sense of humour and a considerable amount of sympathy. That much is clear in ``Cleave,'' the story that contains the title of Grant's book. One character, who is dressed for Halloween as Virginia Woolf, explains how two women in his office came to a meeting in the guise of ``those conjoined twins from Iran.'' As you might expect, the costume is deemed to be in very poor taste. ``The VP of distribution admonished the twins for making light of tragedy,'' writes Grant. The character later finds one of the women crying in the mezzanine, stroking the wigs. ``But no one understands,'' she tells him. ``I /loved/ the conjoined twins from Iran. The night of their operation in Singapore, I kept vigil. When they died, a piece of me died too.'' '

(Jason Anderson amazon.ca)

`These stories are filled with cutting, precise wit, astonishing, original imagery -- I particularly love some of the seeming throwaway lines, like ``The sky on the other side of the ceiling threatened rain,'' from ``Tuan Vu'' -- and despite the idiosyncratic nature of many of Jessica Grant's characters, true one-to-one human connection, over and over again, in situations where connection would seem unlikely, if not impossible. She manages a wonderful, delicate balancing act -- making us laugh, and enjoy, while never letting us off the hook. It's a superb work.'

(Glenn Raucher amazon.com)

`Jessica Grant's story collection opens with the Journey Prize-winning ``My Husband's Jump''. An Olympic ski jumper soars over a cheering crowd into a perfect sky: up and up and ... well, up. By tale's end, he's still up, while strained efforts to make sense of it (doping investigations, wind theory, hoax, adultery) have long since come to naught. Meanwhile, his narrating spouse has attained a kind of whimsical equilibrium borne on new faith: ldquo;Lost a husband, gained a deity. What did it mean? It was like inheriting a pet, unexpectedly. A very large Saint Bernard.''

`Whimsy's appeal can easily fade. Here, Grant wields it like a veil fluttered before the light of her gathering purpose, then eased aside for a shimmering finale. With this opening, Grant plays her ace. In another 22 impulsive stories, she sails blithely through shoals of thematic and structural caprice, taking on water if never quite foundering.'

(Jim Bartley Globe & Mail)

`When the narrator's husband takes his final Olympic ski jump, in the winning story ``My Husband's Jump'' by Jessica Grant, he never lands. This story suggests to us that the physical and spiritual world may be brought into occasional and very surprising contact. The husband goes up, but never comes down, leaving the wife to become a believer and the believers to cry foul. This often hilarious story struck the jury as virtually flawless. We agreed that there wasn't a word more or less than required. Jessica Grant's skilful and playful language gave wings to the story and carried us away.'

(Jury's comments, the 2004 Journey Prize)

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, great short story collection. June 24 2005
By Glenn Raucher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It would be too easy to sum up Jessica Grant's "Making Light of Tragedy" by referencing its title. Yes, there are stories that use suicide bombing as a punch-line. Yes, characters laugh at the death of many thousands of people--even if they occurred long ago, and were only undertaken by the person a character is dressed as for a party at a Toronto club. Yes, there are stories where pitfalls that level characters are sources of humor.

It would be too easy. There is great sadness in this book unrelieved by laughter. There is also great humor in this book, added on to moments of pure joy--where characters find they have arrived at a point they've desired; and find themselves as surprised, and uplifted, as we are, with them all the way on their particular, and in some cases, seemingly directionless journeys.

And it is a tribute to Jessica Grant that when her characters arrive at their destinations, it seems as much of a surprise to the characters in many cases, as it may to us, and perhaps, even to the author. These stories emerge, whole, almost seeming to show up on the page as we read them, like a photo slowly revealing itself in the developer.

These stories are filled with cutting, precise wit, astonishing, original imagery--I particularly love some of the seeming throwaway lines, like "The sky on the other side of the ceiling threatened rain," from "Tuan Vu"--and despite the idiosyncratic nature of many of Jessica Grant's characters, true one-to-one human connection, over and over again, in situations where connection would seem unlikely, if not impossible. She manages a wonderful, delicate balancing act--making us laugh, and enjoy, while never letting us off the hook. It's a superb work.

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