Editor Karen Schauber has put together a fascinating collection of literary stories, all of which were inspired by famous, historic Canadian paintings. The Group of Seven Reimagined is quintessentially Canadian, and timely, as the 100-year anniversary of the Group of Seven painters takes place in 2020. This book project is, in part, a celebration of their anniversary and their enduring genius. The publication is also an opportunity to introduce art lovers to the marvels of flash fiction. As an ekphrastic work, The Group of Seven Reimagined showcases modernist landscape paintings, and the flash fiction stories they inspired. Twenty-one Flash Fiction writers from across Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Australia have contributed an ekphrastic piece. Lush full-color reproductions of the paintings are also displayed beside each flash fiction piece in the collection.
For me, The Group of Seven Reimagined surpassed all expectations. First, I thought each painting would simply be incorporated into each of the stories; however, that is certainly not the case. Each painting inspired the writer and in some instances, the art becomes the setting for the story, but in other instances, these writers incorporate aspects of color or texture into the stories. From one region of Canada to another, a national identity is captured and shared with writers all over the world who, in turn, have crafted beautiful flash fiction pieces that accompany and extend the meaning of the art. After all, that’s what art—whether a painting or a story or another medium—does. Art offers a parallel universe to its explorers; its ever-expanding meanings and emotions are experienced in a life-affirming way. Two of the pieces that stood out for me from the diverse voices in the exquisite flash collection are “Silver Mine” and “More Fish in the Sea”.
In “Silver Mine”, Mark Jarman is inspired by Franklin Carmichael’s “A Northern Silver Mine” (1930) and crafts a story about a woman giving birth in a floatplane above this remote village on a river: “…the purple child finally emerges as from a mine running with water, limbs not moving, not breathing, covered in what looks like blue-berry yogurt…”. The baby springs to life, like Jarman’s story does being birthed from Carmichael’s painting.
In contrast, Carol Bruneau offers a beautiful and literary story titled “More Fish in the Sea” inspired by Arthur Lismer’s “Sackville River” (1917), a painting of a river with rapids, rocks and boulders, and vegetation in the distance. Bruneau’s story is written from the perspective of a woman in the afterlife whose last connections to the world were “…a splash of red (a dying spring of huckleberry?), eddying light, a crow’s squawk.” She was dumped literally and metaphorically. Bruneau indicates that though nature is beautiful, its essence is not to serve as protector for those who take advantage of it.
In all, readers will devour this collection of flash fiction accompanied and inspired by gorgeous lush, full color art in one sitting, but because of the beauty and depth of each piece, because the narratives and paintings are immersive when experienced side by side, I would imagine readers will come back to visit time and again.