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Write On Ottawa: The old man’s last sauna and other intriguing stories

By Alejandro Bustos on April 29, 2014

The best parties are filled with interesting people, whose captivating stories echo throughout the room.

The short story collection The old man’s last sauna by Ottawa-based author Carl Dow reminds me of an interesting party. Published by the BumblePuppy Press, which is run by Dow’s son, each story can be compared to a different fascinating person, whose thought-provoking tale captures the room’s attention.

There is the story of a man who tries to commit a metaphysical murder (Sorry, Room for One Only).  Another describes a boy’s tendency to lie – and how his parents encourage him to use his active imagination (Sharing Lies).  The funny children’s story Our School Bus is Missing! recounts a lovable school bus driver, while The Richest Bitch in the Country contains dark humour as it describes a wealthy young woman who wants to be a stripper.

With this eclectic mix, one may wonder whether Dow had a particular audience in mind when crafting this book.

“Some of the stories in the collection – for instance, Room for One Only – I wrote as experiments to try my hand at a particular genre,” says Dow, who worked as a journalist at such publications as the Globe and Mail and the defunct Toronto Telegram and Montreal Star.

“Others, like The Richest Bitch in the Country, were stories that came from a range of experiences in my past, but that came together like children of many parents, or like a meal coming together from a wide variety of ingredients.  And some, like the title story, The Old Man’s Last Sauna, came straight out of my imagination.

“To finally answer your question, some stories I write with an audience in mind, some I write for myself, and some I write because they seem to insist on being written.”

Currently the publisher and editor of the online publication True North Perspective, Dow has lived an interesting life.  In addition to being a journalist, he has worked in farm labour, house construction, as a cost accountant and a driver.

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Carl Dow

“I drove a school bus for six years, from 1989, some of the happiest working years of my life,” says Dow.  “Though there wasn’t a direct connection it was during that time that I tried my hand at fiction for the first time in many years.”

Years before driving a bus, Dow picked up the literary pen as a teenager.  He tells Apartment613 that he first started writing in Grade 8 and completed his first novel in Grade 10.

His many years of fiction writing clearly show in this short story collection, as Dow is definitely not afraid of tackling a wide range of topics.  From metaphysical murders, to a two-page piece that resembles a prose poem (Deo Volente), to a passage in another tale that mentions ageism and incest, to good old fashioned humour (the enjoyable children’s tale Our School Bus is Missing! is a fun read), this book is akin to a literary à la carte.

Dow’s journalism background is also clear in the full story titles that sound like newspaper headlines. There is the tale O! Ernie … What have they done to you?  In the name of Democracy they commit crimes against humanity, or the straightforward headline-cum-title, One Lift Too Many (A retired bank robber, now a father of two young children, with a  serious gambling debt to the mob, break’s his gang’s rule).

The stories in this book will make you laugh, think, have fun and – to be perfectly honest – potentially spook you at times.

For instance, there are parts of The Old Man’s Last Sauna (the last story in the collection) that could make some people uncomfortable.  The title story of the book describe a mother-son relationship that contains elements of tenderness, beauty, love and (depending on the reader) awkwardness.  The result is like a miniature model of life: sometimes you are filled with love; other times you are shocked;  and the resolution is not always what you expect.