ALL THE PRINCES in this book are dead and in their graves now. Except for one, perhaps." Thus, with a wry sense of his own mortality, Tom Finn introduces the 10 stories contained in his first book, Princes (Harry Cuff, 105 pages, $11.95 paper). Born in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, in 1931, Finn takes the reader back to a "realm that now seems incredibly distant in time and space, a place existing today, I suppose, only in the memories of Newfoundlanders who were not Canadian-born."
Finn's fictional family, the Princes of Bonavista Bay, lends a unique structure to his stories. In "The Burning Bridge," a young Aloysius Prince comes to understand his own mortality through an encounter with Kevin Dingwell, who, at 27, is dying of tuberculosis. In "Grace," an older Aloysius is taken back to his youth through an encounter with a childhood friend, Phil Carnaghan, who is now a priest. Ida, of the Prince family, despairs when, in "One of the Beloved," her husband, John Asa Flood, claims to see Jesus each day on his fishing boat.
The characters who populate these stories are often eccentric, sometimes humorous, and occasionally pathetic. Finn evokes them with great tenderness and with a fine ear for dialect. It is a large claim to make, but in many ways Finn has done for pre-Confederation Newfoundland what James Joyce in his stories did for his native Dublin. Princes is a finely crafted collection of short stories that deserves to be widely read.