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-- b i o --
Craig Saila works at CANOE, as an online editor for The Financial Post and Money. He also is a member of the International Advisory Board for the Canadian Institute for New Media, Research and Development.

He was the Managing Editor of Canada's first daily magazine devoted to the new media, The Convergence, and his written for The Toronto Star and Toronto Life.

Concrete Forest, edited by Hal Niedzviecki
reviewed by Craig Saila

It's about time Canada's big publishers recognized what the country's small presses have known for years: Canadian fiction need not be about remote landscapes or the lives of the country's first citizens. It can be, and in Concrete Forest is, a portrait of today's reality; a reality where nature is dominated by silicon and steel and dead-end jobs.

Published by McClelland & Stewart, Concrete Forest: The New Fiction of Urban Canada is a tautly woven collection of short stories punctuated by a poem, a comic, and a fictionalized road journal. This is the new Canadian reality as seen by editor Hal Niedzviecki and twenty-six of the country's best writers.

Most of the writers in Concrete Forest have published at least one book (I've been lucky enough to publish a few of these writers in Schrödinger's Cat, the Canadian literary magazine I co-edit); their stories have become movies (Dany Laferrière's first novel and Michael Turner's Hard Core Logo have both been adapted for screen); they're work has achieved international attention; but most importantly, their voices are original.

Niedzviecki, the editor of Canada's alternative publishing and culture magazine broken pencil, writes in the book's introduction that this "new urban literature is anything but complacent. It challenges structure and form, not just for the sake of doing so, but because, in the concrete forest, nothing can be sacrosanct."

Whether it's the indie-style comic "Missing" by internationally acclaimed Julie Doucet or the late Daniel Jones' "In Various Restaurants" or the short, yet disturbing, "Falling Down" by Matthew Firth, these works are distinct, gritty, and laced with an edginess too often lost in mainstream Canadian literature.

They reflect lives shaped by television, by jobless economic recoveries, and by an overly commercialized culture. These writers, many of whom have developed out of the network of small presses and zines, present this urban landscape with unflinching accuracy.

Concrete Forest is a strong, and cohesive sampling of works as rich in variety as the talents of the writers are within. The book, by making Canadian literature once again relevant, frees people from the dusty shackles of the country's official canon and encourages them to once again appreciate what it means to read great writing.  Copyright © 1998, Craig Saila

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