Country Music Country
by Bruce Hunter
Country Music Country – The Reboot, stories, 2019
In 2019, the third edition of his 1996 collection of gothic Calgary stories, Country Music Country, enjoyed a reboot. This exciting new edition features an introduction by literary historian Shaun Hunter (no relation to the author) and a Postscript by the author. It is available in paper and ebook format worldwide on Amazon. Originally broadcast on CBC Radio on “Between the Covers” in 1999, 2000.
These powerful linked stories that read like a novel begin in a prairie Eden amongst the last vestiges of wild grass, cottonwood, and an ancient buffalo jump, bounded by an oil refinery, explosives plant and rail yards. Hunter describes in vivid detail, and often with dark humour, the lives of his four characters. First as adolescents and then as adults, they work dirty jobs. Some move away to Southern Ontario and return home again in the moving title story.
Praise for the first and second editions of Country Music Country
“Country Music Country brings to life a captivating range of characters and landscapes—from the gritty, hard- core days of Ogden youth to young adult life in gothic southern Ontario. Hard-hitting and tender, these richly- layered stories are crafted so taut even the silence hums. An important reissue of an impactful book.” - Catherine Graham
“There’s a subtlety to this writing…A subtle touch that reminded me of New Yorker Stories—these endings that have slight illuminations—like the unexpected charity of a mother. And in addition to the subtlety, there is a hint of wistfulness about this book, a loss of childhood, neighbourhoods have disappeared over the decades. And the closest parallel I could think of was the early stories of Guy Vanderhaeghe, so you’ve got poignance, beautiful language and no tripping into sentimentality.” - Antanas Seleika, CBC - The Arts Tonight
“Bruce Hunter writes with bold restraint and a poet’s sensibility. His blue-collar characters walk the tight line of their lives into the common universe that includes us all.” - Wayson Choy, Saturday Night
“Focusing on a group of working class kids born in 1952, it’s terrifically evocative of this city in the 1960’s. Country Music Country wrestles the theme of the call of the west into an anguished coherence. A book that sounds to me like “authentic Calgary”, the real thing.” - Ken McGoogan, Calgary Herald
“The finest Southwestern writer you may never have heard of goes coast-to-coast next week. Two Alberta-based stories from Stratford author Bruce Hunter’s 1996 masterpiece, Country Music Country, will be aired on a couple of CBC One (93.5 FM) shows starting Monday…This should help introduce one of Canada great chroniclers of working people to a national audience and one closer to home…Like the key characters in Country Music Country, Hunter was born in 1952, the year—as one of his characters notes -- Hank Williams died.
Like the greatest country music, Hunter tells his emotional stories with deceptive simplicity and imagery for the ages. The real lives of three men and one woman weave through the stories, which flow back and forth between his native Calgary and his adopted Ontario. Through it all, Hunter and his characters stay true to their country music icons. “If country music had a Shakespeare,” he says, quoting one of his characters in Country Music Country, “it was Hank Williams.” …Next week, thanks to the CBC, we can tune into the Hank Williams of Canadian literature.” - James Reaney, London Free Times
“Country Music Country reflects a landscape that is gritty, high-spirited and straight-forwardly blue collar. The 11 stories are clearly the work of a poet: they are precise, detailed and subtle. At times, as characters from one story pop up in another, you forget these are individual stories and think you are reading a novel. Hunter’s unflinchingly realistic stories remind us how tough it really is to have life “all figured out”.” - Lynne Van Luven, NeWest Review
“Country Music Country is a collection of stories that combines a poet’s tautness and grace with a novelist’s sense of scheme and breadth. There is beautifully crafted writing here, the characters compelling, the dialogue luminous, the descriptions vivid and exact. In the tradition of Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, Bruce Hunter is a beguiling realist, making even the most ordinary moments exceptional.” - Barry Dempster
“Country Music Country surveys country that most Canadian writers overlook — blue collar territory. These portraits of men and women who work with their hands are unsentimental, clear-eyed, and deeply empathetic. Hunter’s people keep the world running smoothly on the rails and they know it. It’s this knowledge which Bruce Hunter captures so beautifully in his stories, a knowledge which lights the hard and uncertain lives of his characters with quiet pride, dignity, and grace.” - Guy Vanderhaeghe
The author is grateful to the editors of the following magazines in which the stories first appeared:
Fiddlehead, “Hard Labour”, “Snake Island”; Dandelion, “Harker’s Dam”, “The Many Happy Returns of Kenny Dawes”; Zymergy, “Blood Brothers”; Grain, “Manitoba Maple”, “Country Music Country”, “519”; Canadian Fiction Magazine and Litterae (Romanian), “Arthur”; Canadian Forum, “Tulip Soup”. “The Many Happy Returns of Kenny Dawes”(under the title “Private Property”), also appeared in the anthology Glass Canyons, published by NeWest Press. “Arthur” appeared in the anthology, Reading Writing, published by Nelson Canada. “Country Music Country” was nominated for the 1995 Western Magazine Awards for excellence in fiction by the editors of Grain. “Harker’s Dam” was a third place winner in Dandelion magazine’s national fiction contest in 1995.