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Emma's Hands by Mary Swan  

The O. Henry Awards are regarded as America’s most prestigious awards for short fiction. Mary Swan’s story ‘The Deep’, first published in The Malahat Review, was included in the 2001 O. Henry anthology, which featured such illustrious names as Alice Munro, Dan Chaon and Louise Erdrich. ‘The Deep’subsequently walked away with first prize.

In September, 2002, the Porcupine’s Quill published The Deep in novella format. The book was shortlisted for the Canada/Carribean Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, ‘Best First Book’ category.

Now, the Porcupine’s Quill is pleased to bring you Emma’s Hands. These stories range in their settings from an Israeli kibbutz to Ontario lakeside cottages to the beach at Ostend. Most of the stories are quietly cadenced and elegiac in tone and the prose is marked, as Alice Munro says, by ‘the urgency of feeling and the calm beauty of the telling.’


2004—Globe Top 100,

Review quote

‘It’s not often Alice Munro offers a quote to promote an emerging writer, but after delving into the pages of Emma’s Hands, Mary Swan’s stellar first collection of short stories, it’s easy to see why Munro wants people to stand up and notice. Swan is a first-class writer. Small children, dead relatives, and memories populate her stories, as Swan pays tribute to all the senses contained in remembering. ... Swan’s gift lies in her ability to produce succinct, poetic lines that immediately transport the reader to a memory so vibrant it feels like home. Her deft handling of emotions is as welcome as loving arms, reminding the reader that comfort is as vital to life as air. Her brilliant opening lines linger in the mind -- hopeful and portentous -- ushering the reader forward in anticipation.’

—Elizabeth Mitchell, Quill and Quire

Review quote

‘... Swan’s prose is not imposed conspicuously upon her subject but arises naturally and appropriately from it. Her protagonists are invariably women, most often mature women looking back on incidents in their lives whose significance they now understand for the first time. Swan’s prose is clear, even limpid, reminiscent of the seemingly simple but highly sophisticated art of Ethel Wilson.’

—W J Keith, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review quote

‘Mary Swan’s first book, a novella entitled The Deep (2002), revealed the same qualities that are evident here. I have no hesitation in hailing her as the most gifted new Canadian prose writer to have appeared on the scene for many years. But the key, I repeat, is in the style. These stories must be listened to; every word must be savoured. An exceptional talent is on display here.’

—W J Keith, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review quote

‘Toronto’s far west corner plays host to high-end condos, low-end motels, a swimming palace, an abandoned dance hall. As well, it is the starting point of a weekly walk, a jaunt of mine, to the downtown core. Of course, there is the lake the reason such far-thinking developers built such attractions in the first place. The lake, this lake, is never the same lake twice. Silver with sunlight, dark and foreboding, the surface calm then rough. A new collection, Emma’s Hands, is reminiscent of this land, this water. ... In Swan’s two decades of writing, she has produced little more than a dozen short stories. I imagine the first, second, third renderings; the yellowed papers between. I say this because it is there in the retelling, the deftly nuanced prose. These character-driven pieces typically relate on two levels at once: documented day-to-day minutiae contrasted with, and often accompanied by, a deeper psychological truth surfaced in dreams, memories, epiphanies.’

—Maggie Mortimer, Globe & Mail

Review quote

‘The narrative is electrified by [an] audacious double voice, along with an equally audacious structural complexity. Swift movements through time and space and shifts in perspective among a small army of supporting characters might easily have led to confusion. Yet the care and control of Swan’s writing, the sustained patterns of her imagery and the sheer beauty of her prose clarify everything that is essential to the story while preserving its central mystery.’

—Andrea Barrett, The New York Times

Review quote

‘There is something sexy about the alienating elegance of Swan’s prose. Terrible events at the battlefront are referred to alongside ordinary events in hotels and bars. But it is the objects, the materials of daily life, that get the most attention.’

—Natalee Caple, eye

Review quote

‘Although Swan shows a rare talent for filling in the deep shadows of memory and the past, these stories are neither sad nor funereal, but exciting. They’re like listening, for the very first time, to the story of a friend’s life, when everything seens fresh.’

—Nancy Wigston, Toronto Star

Unpublished endorsement

‘This is a writer who arrives with grace and authority.’

—Alice Munro


A graduate of York University and the University of Guelph, Mary Swan has been published in numerous magazines and journals, including The Malahat Review in Canada, and Harper’s in the United States. Her stories have also been published in several anthologies including Emergent Voices (Goose Lane 1990), Coming Attractions (Oberon 1999), Best Canadian Stories 92 (Oberon 1992) and The O. Henry Awards Prize Stories (2001). The Deep and Other Stories was published in the United States by Random House in the spring. Her novel Boys in the Trees was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2008. She lives in Guelph with her husband and daughter.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories

FICTION / Literary

ISBN-13: 9780889842687

Publication Date: 2003-08-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 160

Price: $16.95