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A Storied Winnipeg: Fables and Local Legends

The stories of Winnipeg are as varied as the city itself. Caught in the middle of the continent by the amber of its past glory and its current penury, Winnipeg occupies a rare and beautiful place in the Canadian landscape. It is a city that parades its ridiculous wealth past desperate poverty on their way to the concert hall for the ballet even as bodies are pulled from the Red River next to where the human rights museum tells its stories. Winnipeg is defined by its main road, which merely circles the city, and its tottering buildings sitting on pylons driven deep into the mud of the ancient lakebed. The principal streets crook across the flat prairie following the ancient whims of cattle and the people maintain their lives as heedless as ants in the grain without the worry of anthill maintenance. Even as the hundred feet of water tremulously asserts its Lake Agassiz presence over our heads, we pretend the lake will not return, and that here on the mud we are as safe as though the city were built on rock.

Many Winnipeg stories feature the city as a distant black hole slowly orbited by the suburbs which gain speed so they are not pulled into the event horizon that is the downtown where light does not escape. This collection would probe that black hole, would wander the frigid streets and stand over the odoriferous steaming grills, in order to see how the modern city dweller commutes in the core, lives in apartment buildings built on mud, and works in the far flung reaches of strange industrial parks where a grey moonscape competes with the grey sky for the viewer's reluctant attention.

Interspersed in the collection, like unsettled commuters on the buses that ply the unploughed streets, are the Mutes and Norms Newsletters, which detail either the deterioration of a person's mind or some vast city-wide conspiracy. There are also tales of live-in maids in Tuxedo mansions, wheelers and dealers in the real-estate trade, ghostly presences who understand something special about the city, love stories with strange Winnipeg twists, and tales of escape only to return.

We cannot just drive away, but we can be absorbed into a horizon, lose ourselves in an ad, or disappear into the forest and shelterbelts on the outskirts. Some features of the city are recognizable. The sizeable immigrant population, the thousands of dead end jobs and half empty buses with their redolent reminders of those who have ridden them, and the sense-which we are even reluctant to admit to ourselves-that something strange is happening in this city. There is a vortex that draws us, some lodestone against which we feel ungovernable attraction and a wary repulsion.

This collection is about that tension, the taut grasp and thrust that is the largest city in Manitoba, its nodes of the two universities, its religious fanatics who write angry Jesus in the snow and on dirty windows, the many crushed faces of its poor, the backroom dealings that give rise to shoddy infrastructure and corrupt city council.

A city of extremes, Winnipeg is only slowly coming into words, and those words are abrupt and sprawling, glittering and soiled, ecstatic and forlorn.

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