The Herring Shed (audio cassette) by Jay 0' Callahan. Artana Productions. $10
In the note which accompanied these tapes, Jay said "I' d sure like Canadians to know The Herring Shed exists," and to that I'll add that I'd like everyone to know it exists. There are, of course, two sides to the tape, only one of which is the herring shed story. The other side has five short stories, of which my favourite is The Iceman, a marvelous short piece based on the diary of a businessman which was published in O'Callahan's local paper. But the real star of the tape is the title story.
Set in Nova Scotia during World War II, it follows a brief time in the life of fourteen year old Maggie Thomas who is off to do her bit to support the family by working in the herring shed. In the space of a few days, Maggie experiences the highs, lows and tedium of the work, and the lowest of lows brought to her and her co-workers as the reality of war hits home.
Jay O'Callahan sure knows people. He creates characters and situations in a few minutes that will stay with you for a lifetime. His mesmerizing telling of this story I half spoken/half sung, pulls the listener into the lives of Maggie and the world of the herring shed. It's hard sometimes not to be effusive when you love something as much as I do this story, so let me say only that I highly recommend this story to teens and adults.
The mood of the Pill Hill Stories is quite different than that of the herring shed, but it,too, has the drama, poignancy, and laughter that we've come to expect from O'Callahan's stories. Pill Hill was the name of the neighbourhood 0' Callahan grew up in --so named because so many doctors lived in the big old houses. From the moment Jay whistles the listener into the past and introduces his seven year old self you are caught up in the happenings of his childhood. Or, at least, the happenings as he chooses to remember them, for, as his states in the liner notes, "I did not want a documentary. I wanted to be free to invent and alter and change...I wanted to capture the CUrrents I felt as a boy growing up." And capture them he did, from the description of his trials with his glasses, to the stories of a tough friend, to the politics of a soldier-uncle returning from the war. I'm glad this is a double cassette because you need that time to get to know the young Jay and the people who made up his world.
This tape, too, will be best appreciated by adults and teens. Second Story Review, March 1996
The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 1, March 1996