Thursday, June 30, 2011

Together Again: Wagamese and Richards . . . and Wharton?

If I don't catch up by combining several short blurbs in one post, I'll never get to talk about a book while it's fresh with me. So, here goes, three from May:
1. I read Edith Wharton's Ethan Fromme to benefit from the astute and enlightening post written by Lisa's father, The Professor, and posted over at her website, Privilege. Will I shock you if I admit that it's the first Wharton novel I've read? Remember, I'm a Canadianist, and although I do have some familiarity with American Lit, it's primarily the more contemporary writing. I'll definitely make room for more Wharton after this introduction, especially now that The Professor has drawn my attention to the finer linguistic aspects of the dialogue. I'm also rather interested to compare the text's "coldness" (again, note what the Prof says about this) with some rather cold Canadian texts. The combination of social and meteorological coldness, especially against a background of class relations, though, seems rather particular. (Yet some of Sinclair Ross's stories come to mind, particularly for the social isolation.)
I was disappointed that I hadn't managed to view the film version of this -- especially since it featured a very good cast. But The Professor's impatience with it reconciles me to my failure, and I doubt I'll try to search out the video now.

2. I read David Adams Richards' Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul (a copy I had him sign after hearing him speak) as I flew back across Canada from New Brunswick, finishing it over the first few days back home. Surprisingly, it's something of a page-turner, as close to genre fiction--the mystery--as I can imagine Richards getting. Usually, I read his books with some mixture of fascinated horror and genuine concern for the one or two truly human individuals that tend to redeem the surrounding banal multiplying selfishnesses of the world he describes . . . his Miramichi a microcosm of humanity, but also a fascinatingly particular region, harsh, gothic, sometimes beautiful. I'm also generally horrified by, yet oddly admiring of, Richards' disregard for intellectual and literary fashion, for what I hate calling "political correctness" yet concede the term's usefulness. Richards writes about religion and race in ways that occasionally make me wince, yet excepting his narrators' overblown disgust with academe, I admit that he writes with intellectual honesty and rigour.  And as particular as his works are to a small, rather remote region, he gets to the universal in a way that recalls those big Russian writers he favours (at least, they certainly come up in the interviews/articles I've read about him).

3. Richard Wagamese's Dream Wheels is a much more accessible novel, but linked to WagameseRichards'  in a way through the small communities, the threatened ways of life, and the First Nations characters, a young man and his grandfather especially. Of course, in the current climate of mistrust for cultural appropriation (a mistrust I generally share), Wagamese is considered a more legitimate teller of such a tale, being FN himself. Yet his elder might sit down happily with Richards' old chief, the broken young rodeo rider find a sympathetic ear in the Miramichi FN police officer, Markus Paul.  I've put Wagamese's book on my first-year reading list for the fall, and I'm hoping the students will enjoy the descriptions of rodeo life in the BC interior as much as I did -- I'm always fascinated by the particulars of any disciplined endeavour, especially when the description is researched well enough to be convincing. And I'm especially keen when physical discipline -- skateboarding, hockey-playing, gardening, whatever -- leads to spiritual awareness and emotional well-being.

I note that by some interesting coincidence, I have once again brought Wagamese and Richards together in a post. I wonder what that's about . . .


  1. Ethan Fromme is the only Wharton novel I've not read, but plan to, after I finish reading A Passage to India, which I plan to read right after finishing a few Jack Reacher novels a certain Materfamilias Reads blogger got me addicted to :-).

    Wagamese's novel sounds really interesting.

  2. I am not familiar with Wagamese or Richards. But then you have introduced me to a few authors so I should suspect that I will be reading them once I get a bit of a grip on my backlog.

    I have read much Wharton and have enjoyed and appreciated most of it except for Ethan Fromme. This could be because it was required reading in 9th grade English and I did not appreciate its finer points, merely finding it stultifying. It is possible that my teacher did not appreciate its good points either, as she spent much of the class complaining that she hadn't been assigned to teach English Literature. I ended up wishing I had been assigned to the half of the class that got to read O Pioneers instead.

    Upon reading the post on Ethan Fromme on Lisa's blog, I was reminded that there is much in that book that slipped right over my head, and perhaps it is time to revisit Wharton.

  3. Susan and Mardel: Wharton's obviously a staple of the Am. canon which I admit I have neglected in favour of our own. Time to catch up, if only people would stop publishing new books (which, of course, I really don't desire at all).
    Despite my reservations about Richards, which I realize come through loud and strong here, he's really the novelist I'd recommend for strong readers looking for something that will really stick. He's not easy, but he rewards. Wagamese is also worth picking up, easier to get into quickly, mixes humour and thoughtfulness engagingly. If you end up reading either I'd be happy to hear back.

    And Susan, sorry about the Reacher addiction . . . Mardel shares it!

  4. Mea Culpa, I didn't think of Am. canon vs. Canadian.

    Is there a website for the Canadian canon?

    Re: Canadian literature, the main writers I'm familiar with are Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies.

  5. Well, geesh, I tend to forget that too, how US-Centric of me. I'd be interested in the Canadian canon as well.

  6. Susan/Mardel: No need at all to apologize -- we can't read it all, right? -- so it's pretty legit to know our own best. Although that wasn't always the case with Canadian, it being part of our nature somehow to assume British or American was better. Courses in Canlit didn't even exist until the 70s.
    As for canon, that's shifting ground now, really, but besides Atwood and Davies, you probably know Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen (a poet and novelist long before the music career), and Michael Ondaatje, just off the top of my head. Sinclair Ross' novel As for Me and My House, as well as his short stories is probably less well known outside Canada. Ditto for Sheila Watson's The Double Hook, a very important book for its place in our literary development. And we have the wonderful, wonderful poet Dionne Brand. I could go on . . . .