Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Sandra Birdsell, who was born in the small town of Hamiota, Manitoba, on April 22, 1942, is the author of two novels, three volumes of short fiction, one collection of short stories, and a children's book. She has also written scripts for television. Her Agassiz Stories was chosen by Macleans as one of the ten best books of 1987, and her short story "Falling in Love" received the National Magazine Award in 1984.

Most of her adult fiction, essentially realist in style, is set in the fictional southern Manitoba town of Agassiz. Her stories typically concern the encounter of young women either with men who don't deserve them or with unimaginative old people (grandparents, neighbors, accidental acquaintances) who have grown weary of life. Birdsell writes a marvelous short story: "Night Travelers," "Ladies of the House," and "The Two-Headed Calf" all share that irresistibility common to excellent writing. "Night Travelers," for instance, tells of a mixed Mennonite-Metis marriage that has gone wrong. Various members of the family gradually come to know of the wife's infidelity. Birdsell's novels excel at introducing conflicts that the reader longs to see resolved. Middleaged, eccentric Minnie Pullman starts off The Missing Child (1989) with a vision she has while floating naked down the Red River at night that the world is about to experience a second Noah's flood. Young Amy, early in The Chrome Suite (1995), is marked for life by a ruffian's kick in the stomach. She manages to blame all the subsequent sufferings and disappointments in her life on this youthful tragedy and the chronic pain beneath her ribs. Birdsell's The Town that Floated Away (1997) charms us with the adventures of an irrepressible orphan, Virginia Potts, who faces an ethical dilemma she almost does not solve. Like much of her adult fiction, this story makes use of the theme or symbol of a catastrophic, worldchanging flood.

Douglas Reimer University of Manitoba

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