Canadian authors that will give you shivers of delight
Last month I was travelling in Canada and decided to read some Canadian authors. In order to pick ones that most Canadians were reading I went to Costco and bought three. I’ve checked and these books are all available on Amazon so you can get them too. I’ve also reviewed a short story by Alice Munro, who along with Margaret Atwood, is one of my favorite Canadian authors.
The Sanibel Library has ordered copies of the three books in the review.
“Any Known Blood” by Lawrence Hill, published by HarperCollins is the author’s second novel. I reviewed his first, “Someone Knows My Name” a few months ago. In this highly readable novel, a young speechwriter named Langston Cane the V loses his job after sabotaging a government official’s speech. He has a run in with his well-respected father and decides to leave Canada to go to Baltimore to uncover his family history. He is recently divorced and still suffering from the loss of his unborn child which he feels responsible and is looking for answers to questions about his own life and feels that understanding the other Langstons who came before him may help him understand himself.
In Baltimore, he meets some fascinating characters, including his Aunt Mil with her neglected treasure trove of family memorabilia; Yoyo, a Cameroonian street vendor who is actually a writer, stranded by a coup in his country; and Aberdeen Williams, a man whose friendship has spanned generations of the Cane family. As he traces the other Langston Canes’ lives, he discovers both the mythical and real histories of his past. None of the other Langstons were perfect, but from the First’s travels on the underground railroad, to his forays with John Brown, bigamy, and the succeeding stories of Langston Two, Three, and Four, none of his ancestors were boring. Their relationships were complex and the people they mixed with were often as interesting as they were. The narrator takes a life journey himself as he travels between Baltimore and Oakville, Ontario, between his past and his present, among those family members he knows and loves and those he can only know from the distance of time.
“Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay, published by Emblem, McClelland & Stewart, is one of those books that gets better the longer you read. It begins in 1975 in the town of Yellowknife, high in the North of Canada and is centered at the town’s radio station. Harry Boyd is the new manager and an old hand at radio who tried TV, failed and returned. The employees include Dido Paris, an intriguing Dutch woman who was briefly married to a fellow student, who is currently in love with his father and is now bewitching her listeners and Harry with her voice. Politics is in the air as a government inquiry is being made into the impact of a proposed gas pipeline through undeveloped Native land. Another young woman, Gwen, is hired and a long-time citizen of the town is found dead, TV is coming to the town and other changes are afoot. Harry falls in love with Dido but she is attracted to another man. All of this complexity takes place in the first 250 pages. The last 100 pages contain one of the most beautifully written descriptions of a trip I’ve ever read. Four of the employees, including Harry and Gwen take a six-week canoe trip down rivers, retracing the steps of a famous explorer. They encounter caribou, grizzly bears and frozen rivers in June and July and learn how harsh such beauty can be. Fast forward 10 years into the future and the fate of the characters is revealed. Beautifully written, this novel captures the loneliness, beauty and cruelty of the North.
The last book, “The Flying Troutmans” by Miriam Todd, published by Vintage Canada tells the story of the Troutman sisters, Min and Harriet, and Min’s two children, Thebes, 11, and Logan, 15. Min is nine years older than her sister and Harriet has always both admired her and protected her as Min has suffered from some form of mental illness for a long time. When Harriet gets a call from Thebes while in Paris with her French boyfriend saying that Min is sick, she returns to Winnipeg. She finds her sister barely conscious in bed and has her sent to a psychiatric hospital. Harriet decides to take the kids to their father in Arizona. The road trip is filled with the teenage angst of Logan, the creativity and precociousness of Thebes and Harriet’s concern about her inability to parent the kids, her sister’s well-being and flashbacks to their childhood and the unlikelihood of finding their dad. The book is a mixture of grief and comedic joy. The author captures Harriet’s incompetent love and care giving and the close relationship of the kids which is successfully concealed under the rebellious teenager mask of Logan and the goofy little sisterhood of Thebes, an especially well-written and vibrant character.
The last author is Alice Munro. Her short story “Free Radicals” appeared in the New Yorker magazine and will be in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2009″, published by Mariner. She is one of my favorite authors because of the interesting twists she gives her stories and the way her characters leave lasting impressions. In this story, Nita, a 61-year-old widow who has recently and unexpectedly lost her 81-year-old professor husband is at home alone out in the country. She has cancer and is now living alone, irritated by the sympathy notes and phony consolations she has received. That day a meter reader comes to her door and she lets him in. He says he is diabetic and asks for a snack. She makes him breakfast and it is revealed that he is not a meter reader at all, but a man on the run from his own demons. Convinced she is going to be killed, she tells him a story of her own misdeeds. He takes her car and leaves. The story ends in a way that makes you wonder more about Nita’s misadventures than the doomed meter reader’s. It is a brilliant little gem of character description and quiet suggestions that will have you searching for hints as to what Nita has actually done.
These four Canadian authors have written stories you’ll want to read before a warm fire on a cold night or in a cool house on a blazing hot day on Sanibel.