DANDELIONS

by John Pringle

Published by Tall Pine Enterprises 2017

Softcover 196 pages $20.00

BY MICHAEL SOBOTA


THIS is John Pringle’s third published collection of short stories. It comes about a year following his previous collection, Spirals: Stories of Northwestern Ontario.

John writes and lives in Atikokan.

Dandelions is full of surprises, both in the quality of Pringle’s writing and in the range of its content.

He begins this collection by impersonating the Queen. Yes, that queen. Our Queen.

In his opening story, Her Place In The Field, Elizabeth speaks to us through an internal monologue; it is sort of a filtered direct address. Pringle uses this brief sketch as a preamble to this collection. “We just make it all up” he has her tell us, and concludes that she has her own story to tell about “her Majesty, a monarchy, a crown, a symbol that gave her subjects hope and purpose.” These stories, in the very best sense, do that as well.

In this collection, Pringle is writing at the top of game. The phrase is apt as some of these stories are intricate games. I have not been much of a fan of his speculative fiction, a category that includes fantasy and science fiction. But A New Bell grabbed my interest from its first paragraph and pulled me through a looking glass into a dystopian future where a knight (at least I think of him as a knight of sorts) is traveling to replace a bell in an ancient yet futuristic monastery. The story is sheer invention of a new mythology and a brilliant one.

Pringle has told us elsewhere that The Education of Alan Woodruff is part of a future novel.

The excerpt included here is set in another future environment, a ship in space. One link for the stories in this collection is that most of them are about journeys. The adventure, colour and detail in this chapter quickens my interest in the full novel.

There are several stories linked by reoccurring characters, two alcoholic, stoner brothers Kyle and Stanley. It is these stories where Pringle steps up the pace and raises the bar. In doing so, he pushes boundaries, both literarily and the readers interest and acceptance. In Wrestling With Angels, You Ain’t Heard the Worst of It, It’s Not What You think and Meat Suits and Chariots, Pringle explores deeper and darker sides of ordinary lives than I have experienced in his previous writing. He captures altered states of consciousness, be it a lengthy alcoholic bender or a spontaneous dropping of LSD with sharp insights and gasping, grasping specific details. I am uncertain if he likes Kyle and Stanley. But what lessening there may be in compassion for them has made room for cascades of rolling, deliciously raucous humour.

The brothers’ and their stories gift us with some of Pringle’s darkest, edgy and breath-catching humour. A story about the brothers’ love and lust interests, which includes exhuming bodies in freshly buried coffins left me gob-smacked.

There are other great pieces here, including the best shaggy dog story I’ve ever read and possibly the best ever written. Roadside Attraction is a multi-faceted, dusty-dry jewel.

Dandelions, this collection of Pringle’s stories, like the dry, wispy stages of the titular weeds, will drift all around you and stick to you. They are unshakable. Dandelions, the weeds, are controversial only if you think of them as weeds. This collection of dandelions is a literary bouquet you can readily gift to all your mature friends. And you should. Highly recommended.

- Michael Sobota is a Thunder Bay-based writer.

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