Travellers May Still Return

Sask Books REVIEWS, November 2019
by Juliana Rupchan

Travellers May Still Return is a collection of three fiction pieces: two novella-length stories, bridged by a third, shorter piece. Michael Kenyon is based out of Victoria, but the collection is published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, known for publishing literary poetry and fiction. Kenyon’s previous work includes five books of poetry, four chapbooks, and seven books of fiction, including The Beautiful Children, which won the 2010 ReLit Award for best novel.

This extensive cross-genre experience shines through in Travellers May Still Return. The stories have the tension and smoothly crafted characters of a practiced fiction writer, woven through vivid imagery and existential questions that evoke a poetic practice. South and Central America are the main settings, and a strong sense of place as well as a tension of displacement are powerful forces in the longer novellas. While the narrative is not always easy to follow, Kenyon has created striking stories with just the enough mystery to stick in a reader’s mind, like a vivid dream half-remembered.

The first novella, “The Prehistory of Jesse Green”, does an excellent job of sketching the central characters, and explores desire and power at many angles. There is a feverish quality to the piece mirrored in the narrator’s own physical state, and what one might expect to be the climactic action of the piece unravels in favour of the character’s philosophic journey; no directions the piece takes are expected.

The shorter middle piece, “No One But Himself” is the most experimental part of the book, covering a lifetime from the central figure’s birth to the loss of his own child. The first chapters are especially unusual, with all of the experiences of early childhood condensed to specific and unexpected snapshots. There are times when the piece can feel a bit stilted, especially in the later half, which leans heavily on pared-back dialogue. But the same figures carry over into the final novella, and the prologue this piece provides pays off in further character development.

The third piece, “Mistress of Horses, Mistress of Sea” is the longest story, and the strongest for it. The point of view is scattered between many characters, which can make it difficult to pick out the main thread of the story for the first few chapters, but as the piece goes on, clear obstacles and strong personalities emerge, along with vivid symbolic projects and quests. The reader’s understanding of the characters grows as their obstacles become more insurmountable, into a slow unravelling of their world.

Throughout the collection, Kenyon wields the strange magic of ambiguity to form stories that move between the vivid detail and broad scope of a poet’s novel, and the conflicts and character tensions of narrative fiction. While there is a sense that this book has many layers to unravel, even a more casual reader could appreciate the vitality of the world and characters, and the endless questions of what it is to be human — not least, of what we lose when our personal concerns collide with the full force of the modern world.

— Juliana Rupchan

https://reviews.skbooks.com/travellers-may-still-return/