First posted on Canadian Bookshelf canadianbookshelf.com/
The Man from the Creeks, Robert Kroetsch, 1998, New Canadian Library
- Kroetsch’s sudden death in June made me pick up his last novel once again. I came to it for the first time a few years ago, ten years after it was published (I often come late to books) and fell in love with its tender, amused and desperate tone. What underlies the novel/adventure/yarn/love story is Robert Service’s ripping poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” The poem calls to the storyteller/poet in Kroetsch and the resulting 307 pages are perfect.
Secular Love, Michael Ondaatje, 1984, Coach House Press
- Summer poetry – open, sensual, secretive, full of motion, full of love and humour. People often remark about the poet in the novelist when they speak about Ondaatje, less so about the storyteller in the poet. This collection gives us characters and place in all their dramatic singularity: marital breakup, drunkenness, sudden love, deep and lasting attachments to rivers, farms, fields, friends. I’ve read it many times and I am always seduced, inspired and envious.
The Outlander, Gil Adamson, 2007, Anansi
- The Some Like it Hot of novels with a great beginning that gallops all the way home to a great ending. It’s a tale of a runaway widow being hunted by two vengeful brothers-in-law and it brims with natural poetry and action. On every level it is electrifying and unforced. I’m rereading it to see how she pulled it off, and what I might learn.
A Long Continual Argument, The Selected Poems, John Newlove, 2007, Chaudiere Books
- I open this book in the middle and wonder why I read anyone else. He was a very difficult man (he liked to say that for his sins he lived in Ottawa) with such a pure voice, mordant and aching. He says things no one else says, and that I don’t realize I need to hear until I hear them. This is an excellent posthumous collection published by a small, valiant Ottawa publisher.
The Elizabeth Stories, Isabel Huggan, 1984, Oberon
- Isabel Huggan, who grew up in Elmira, Ontario and lived for a time in Ottawa, now has her home in the south of France. She made her name with this first collection of stories that still snap my head around with their own particular cockiness. There’s such a sense of letting the traces go, of throwing caution to the winds and getting at the real truths of family and small town life. I read it to remind myself to be funny and brave, and, above all, to believe in what I’m writing.
Enchantment and Sorrow, The Autobiography of Gabrielle Roy, trans. Patricia Claxton, 1987, Lester & Orpen Dennys
- Another book I love. No one writes more directly and effectively from the heart than Gabrielle Roy. I reread her autobiography for the details of her childhood and for her extreme attachment to her mother from whom she would have to extricate herself in order to become the writer she became. The quality of her emotions, the laying bare of relationships, the hard-won escape to France – it is all gripping and wonderful. The price she paid for her independence, and the price her mother paid, breaks my heart.