Gil Adamson’s most recent book, and first novel, The Outlander, was published by House of Anansi in spring of 2007 and later that year won the prestigious Dashiel Hammet Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. Since then, in addition to several awards, it has received distinction as a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, and in 2009 was one of the featured selections on Canada Reads.
Adamson is also the author of two volumes of poetry, Primitive (1991), and Ashland (2003), as well as Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, a linked story collection published in 1995, and re-issued by House of Anansi in 2009, which was our Spring Book Club Selection.
Following her appearance at our April breakfast meeting, Gil Adamson kindly agreed to answer a few additional questions by email. Her answers are thoughtful, funny and enlightening.
Our sincere thanks to her for her generosity and for being a completely wonderful book club author!
Some writers claim they have a better perspective on ‘place’ when at a distance from it. Was this the case for you with The Outlander? In other words, how did you keep the essence of the landscape so ‘true’?
That is very true for me, too. I find that I like to write about something when I’m not experiencing it. So, I often find I write about snow when it’s summer, and vice versa. If many writers do this, I suspect it’s because the whole of your imagination is required.
You’ve said The Outlander began as a poem, with Mary as an unlikeable character. What were you exploring with her that didn’t lend itself to the poetic form?
I guess in a poem (unless it’s a looong poem) you don’t have as much room to explore a character’s thought processes and the way those might change slowly over time. In fact, it seems funny to even speak of “character” in a poem. Not sure why that is. Poetry is about precision of language, and at its best, it’s a taut and ferocious form of communication. Whereas, to my mind, fiction is more relaxed, simply because you have more time to whisper in the reader’s ear. TIME is a distinction here. As for Mary, the character in the poem, she is such a helplessly mad creature, so dark and irredeemable (she becomes a kind of bogeyman by the end, a cautionary tale rather than a person), that I knew I couldn’t stand being with her for a whole novel—neither could readers. The novel starts out nearly identically to the first few stanzas of the poem, but quite soon goes in a different direction. Because, really, where’s the depth in a bogeyman?
An aspect of The Outlander I enjoyed was how Mary’s story illustrates a part of history as it relates to women’s lives. Her crime, while awful in any light, is especially outlandish (hmm… outlandish, outlander…??) in that time and place; I wonder how different the story would have been were it the husband that killed her? And then I wonder: am I just wondering that because I’m a woman? So here’s the question: in meeting with readers, have you noticed different takes (among male and female) re sympathy toward Mary?
Interestingly, no. Men and women seem to receive my novel in much the same way. Just as many men as women accept that Mary has done a shocking thing but nonetheless worry about her survival. Where I do see a difference between men and women is that women readers tend to ponder the everyday life a woman like Mary (or like themselves) would have led in the 1900s. That includes being treated disrespectfully by men, but also laundry, childbirth, poverty, etc.
You might be interested to know that at various times in Canadian history, just as many women were hanged for capital offenses as were men. Your gender might not protect you. Social sympathy ebbed and flowed over time as regards “delicate” or “helpless” women (creatures too stupid or incapacitated by hormones to know what they were doing when they poisoned their husband or throttled the baby). It was a “fact” at that time women could not study for very long, or else their reproductive organs would wither. This might have the effect of making some women reluctant to pursue too much education, yes?
It was my best bet that Mary would have been hanged for her crime, at that time, AND that her husband would have been hanged, had the situation been reversed. In other words, in terms of the execution of Canadian criminal law, they would be treated equally. Now, would the law have intervened if a man treated his wife like a servant, withheld money to the point of her impoverishment, hit her, or generally considered himself above her? I think not.
Have you ever had those moments, in interviews or discussions, where something is illuminated about your work that you hadn’t noticed or considered, some new perspective? If so, does this happen more with poetry than with fiction?
Penn Kemp, a writer in London Ontario, noticed that William Moreland’s name is appropriate to his character: this guy needs space: More land. I can’t say I did that deliberately—William Moreland was a real person, so I used his real name. I could have changed it, I suppose. But I also can’t say the name didn’t please me for more reasons of sound. It always struck me as a perfect name. If the guy’s name had been Ambrose Ruggbugler, I might not have been so happy about it.
Writers find this all the time—strange moments of intelligence in a text that you didn’t even know you’d written. That’s just because the conscious and the unconscious minds don’t speak enough, and both are employed when you write. These wee surprises don’t happen a lot in poetry, but that is possibly because one goes over and over every line, and it’s rare for us to miss anything. I won’t say it doesn’t happen.
Can you/do you work on several projects or genres at a time? Or do you find you go through stages of poetry mind, short story mind, etc., where you’re fixed on one project or genre in particular?
It might just be me, but when I’m writing fiction, I can’t even *hear* poetry properly. I’m well-trained enough that I can tell if a given poem is good or crappy. But even good poems feel too elliptical and vague. And then, when I’m writing poetry (as you say “poet mind”), fiction seems flabby and like a lot of blahblahblah. I have occasionally written poetry in the same creative period as I’m writing fiction, but it’s rare. And it usually indicates that I’m switching over from one form to another … like Dr Jekyl. Whatever you do, no matter what you hear, don’t open the door! She’s turning into a poet.
You’ve said that much of what happens in Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, is true, but that it happened differently. That there really was a relative who collected large white animals, your brother was, in fact, a technological savant, and your mother, like Hazel’s was ‘long, tall, elastic’ (btw, the mother is one of my all-time favourite characters ‘in literature’; I’m so sad I don’t know anyone quite like her), and I’m assuming your father actually re-wired the house whenever he was tense. So, it has to be asked: did your grandfather really keep a dead dog in the back seat of the car?
My father did re-wire the house. My brother can fix anything, if you can drag him away from whatever he’s working on long enough to notice you. Andrew was given one of the first PCs ever available—Vic20 I think it was called. He taught himself code, re-programmed the thing, attached a speaker, and one day we all found ourselves standing in his room listening to Pachelbel’s Canon coming out of this little speaker … it had perfect pitch. The next week, he got bored with music and programmed something else.
My great-grandfather, Colonel Agar Adamson of the PPCLI, did collect white animals, after the war, because he was bored, and he did take them all out in the rowboat to see which would reach land first. And the cat really did win the race. My grandfather never actually kept a dead dog in the back seat of his car. Let’s say they were almost dead. He was utterly unable to have a sick animal put down—he couldn’t stand to say goodbye—so you’d see these undead dogs staggering round the house, blind, deaf, stuffed to the gills with treats. And of course he took them for rides. Like her fictional counterpart, my mother was tall and slim and could wear anything; she was smart and funny and practical and tough—she had other less heroic qualities, as do we all—but that was my Mum at her best. So, it’s all true, after a fashion. The disclaimer for the original edition of Help Me, Jacques Cousteau was: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is not only coincidental, but is also a damned lie, according to my mother” She read that and said “Oh, you little rat!”
I enjoyed the excerpt from The Crying Game, posted on your website—the backseat childhood memories juxtaposed with the dreadful bus trip to visit their mother—can’t wait to read more! (Was it a difficult decision to post an excerpt, or is that just part and parcel of the way the industry is shifting? What changes have you noticed over the past ten years? What remains the same?)
I’ve pretty much abandoned that novel. It was hard to post it, but only because some novels are hard to excerpt (The Outlander is quite easy to excerpt, for some reason). People will tell you that you have to have a webpage. And maybe you do. The industry has changed, and I’m not sure I like all the changes, especially those that ask writers to be “professional” and to self-promote. To blog and have a photo gallery. Links and videos. Discussion forums. The only reason you are interested in, say, Margaret Atwood is because of her books. If she was just some clever old dame with corkscrewy hair and a twinkly eye, would you be following her twitter page? (and Twitter. Uch! What’s next? Scans of one nose pore?) It seems to take us away from the book and focus on the writer as a person—and let’s face it, most writers are weirdoes and their lives are boring. Boring! Can you imagine a webcam on a writer doing her job? It’d be like the panda-cam at the San Diego Zoo, except completely devoid of cuteness. “12:15 AM, no change, she’s still just sitting there, chewing.”
Finally, may I ask what you’re currently reading and/or what’s in your To Read pile?
I recently read a book called Finn, by Jon Clinch, recommended by my friend Brett Polegato—a famous opera singer and unrepentant booklover. Incredibly it’s a first novel, which tells the story of Hucklberry Finn’s demonic father, and it is a gorgeous horror of a book. That novel really startled me—apparently a few Twain scholars got their knickers in a knot, too.
Because I recently screened for a crime writing award, I came across a few wonderful titles: the incredibly charming and vaguely Borgesian The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, Bury Me Deep, by Megan Abbott (forgive the porny title, the writing is spectacular), and the ghoulishly funny Burial by Neil Cross. (Cross writes for the BBC show Spooks—MI-5 here in Canada—and he is a wizard. More than once I had to drop this very scary book and howl with laughter.)
Currently, I am reading Michael Helm’s Cities of Refuge and loving it. The main character feels like a real person, I feel like I’ve met her. And Helm’s word choice is wonderful. I keep running across these flashes of brilliance and thinking: I wish I’d thought of that.
My to-read list: Edward P. Jones’ The Known World—about slaves in Virginia who are owned by free Black people … based apparently on a rare but real phenomenon. I’m quite curious about Ron Rash’s Serena, and A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, both of which seem to involve a kind of Lady Macbeth character. I want to re-read Night of the Hunter by David Grubb, the story of two children menaced by a man posing as a preacher who carries a nasty switchblade and has H-A-T-E and L-O-V-E tattooed across the knuckles of his hands. Not only was it made into a movie with Robert Mitchum (Charles Laughton’s only directorial work), but it is a nice example of film honouring the original book—you don’t have to say: forget the movie, read the book. You can recommend both.
What Happened Later
Our first book was “What Happened Later” by Ray Robertson. If you’d like to read the discussion about this book, you may click on the link below. (Please note, the discussion posts read from the bottom up – i.e., first conversational salvo is at the bottom, scroll up to read responses and new ideas).
Help Me, Jacques Cousteau
Click on any of the following:
From the publisher:
“With her multiple-award-winning, bestselling novel The Outlander, Gil Adamson established herself as one of our preeminent writers. But a handful of readers and critics sat up and took note ten years before, when Adamson published her first work of fiction.
“That book, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau,was praised by Barbara Gowdy as “outstanding…smart, haunting, utterly original.”
“It had a limited print run and was soon hard to find—until now.
“Help Me, Jacques Cousteau presents the life and times of Hazel and her brother Andrew, who are born into an extraordinary family of modern day eccentrics. This funny and poignant portrait of an offbeat family showcases Adamson’s powerful prose, which uniquely combines a scientist’s attention to detail, a comic’s delivery, and a poet’s ear.”
How do you navigate the line between elements of fiction being mixed with reality (real people and events). Do you avoid it all costs or, when integral to the work, do you just suck it up and realize there will always be someone who thinks it’s “them” and take issue. Does this kind of negative perception matter to you and how does it influence what you write?
Under what circumstances do you use real place names, and when, if ever, do you keep it vague or make up names, a la Laurence and Munro and so many others?
Someone recently commented that “nothing happens” in Help Me, Jacques Cousteau. It was meant as a negative, as in: there are no explosions, no car chases, no dead body in the fireplace to start things off with a bit of sizzle… Is it really that “nothing happens” or that maybe someone’s reading the wrong book?? (For instance, another person may consider a series of car chases as ‘nothing’… and be waiting for something much more profound to “happen”.)
In Cousteau ‘life’ happens… in the most incredible ways. The idea of ‘nothing’ vs ‘something’ also seems to me a huge theme in the book. The very definition of both concepts being put under the microscope.
Lives changed is definitely ‘something’ I would say.
So this idea of what, exactly, constitutes ‘something’ happening… is this a genre thing or a personal preference/perspective thing?
What are your thoughts on the struture of the opening story?
Initial feelings about Hazel, the narrator? Is she going to be ‘reliable’?
Favourite lines, images?
I was confused, initially by the changes in tense throughout this story. On p.30, for example, Hazel’s mother “…stood there for a second, thinking. “No,” she says and puts a plate of eggs down in front of me.” Eventually I accepted it as Hazel’s quirky way of recalling her memories. Any thoughts on this?
Worse than Taxi Driver
What a family. And how gorgeously portrayed! Hazel’s father carrying her out of the theatre, her crying over the spilled pop, over Bambi’s mother; jealousy of her baby brother, and the aunts, still squabbling over perceived childhood injustices: who was Tarzan, who was the ape? These things carry forward and represent new, unspeakable things.
She employs another version of the past/present twist again, something I’m starting to love, especially when she uses it as on p.38: “His wide-eyed expression, we will discover later, comes from the fact that he badly needs glasses and can’t see anything.”
Cousins emerging from a car “pour out like fish from a bucket“; a small connection being made to her sometimes sense of ‘drowning’?
Reminders of past when the father finds sparklers ”…a boomerang and a long piece of nautical rope.”
And the last perfect line; a verb would only ruin it: “A house full of pounding hearts.”
Heaven is a Place Beginning with H
What I took from this story was that, despite the utter sense of disconnection, stronger still is the thread, the unspoken who-else-would-have-us understanding, that this is a family, despite threats of leaving (grandmother), ignoring reality (grandad, Andrew), feeling like an outsider (Hazel, mother). Everyone knows that no one’s really going anywhere, that, essentially, they’re in it—whatever it is—together.
The epigraph has intrigued me from the start and plays into the theme of “nothing” here very strongly. Nothing but everything happens (constantly). So is it heaven or what?
Bishop and the Aunties
The subtle poetry of the narrator’s voice is more pronounced with each story as the child grows into the adult who is recalling the past in present tense, and who also knows the future and weaves it in as a kind of time travel bridge.
I see this story as ‘the fantastic vs the real’. Bishop doesn’t live in the real world and is an influence on others to be less ‘stuck’ (not that he should be held up as an example); he’s a frustrated creative, though ‘creative’ may be too kind a word.
Help Me, Jacques Cousteau
With the father’s compulsive need to re-wire the house as a backdrop, we see how Hazel’s family appear to have no idea of their effect on others. When Hazel steps on a live wire, her father hardly blinks.
“Jesus,” Dad says, shaking his head. “That must have hurt.”
He doesn’t remove it and though Hazel tries to warn them, her brother and a young neighbour both step on the wire in turn, while her mother only narrowly, and accidentally, misses it.
Despite her best efforts, Hazel can’t stop the ‘force’ of her family’s (at times dangerous) wackiness.
Big Blue Suit
Interesting use of tense (p.90, bottom); scene begins with the day of a dream–past tense–then continues to end of scene in past. (There’s always something, a hint, a reminder, that she’s much older as she tells these stories, including the present tense ones.)
While Hazel’s family falls apart, she is fish sitting for neighbours who also have their problems. She’s constantly looking ofr excitement through binoculars; what she sees is not always what is (red-haired visitor, for example). And then, she finds her dad in the lens. Looking sad, just standing in the backyard…
Mrs. Baze is another example of people disconnected from people. She cares for animals, birds, but people worry/annoy her. (With good reason–animals are better.)
I notice that all stories are not stand-alone; for example, in this, Andrew starts talking again (we would only know he stopped if we’d read previous story, which likely we have, but still…).
When the independent bookstore goes the way of the dinosaur, whose fault will it be? Only by supporting them will they survive. It’s up to us.
Canada Reads (the original) Begins!
Building an author’s “platform”
The Power of ‘Out There’….
Only heard about THIS VIDEO yesterday but apparently a few others already knew about it. Something like 45 million views on YouTube. The short story is that a guy posted an animated video back in 2006, it immediately went madly and (when you see the tape you’ll know what I mean) unexplainably viral. Weirder still, the fascination with it continues.
The guy of course has since launched an extremely successful film and video business as a result.
Our current title—Help Me, Jacques Cousteau—is a collection of linked stories (or are they?), narrated in first person (would third would have been better?), by a young girl named Hazel (what a great name) who lives with a family of eccentrics (her father rewires the house whenever he’s nervous, one uncle collects only white animals while another collects girlfriends and wives) and who grows up rather confused (gee, I wonder why?).
Gil Adamson is first and foremost a poet…so the images she conjures are gorgeous and unique (clouds that look “like the sand in shallow water”) but it’s done with a light touch and much humour… “My mother and I share a fondness for watching insects from a safe distance.”
The book begins with an epigraph: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”
That in itself is worthy of a conversation.
So welcome to The Discussion, Debate and Dissection…
Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, by Gil Adamson
General Questions re Book as a Whole :
Are each of these technically ‘stories’? And what makes a linked collection different from a story cycle or even a ‘loosely’ structured novel? In other words, could this have been classified as a novel…?
Is it just me, or are there A LOT of references to dogs? Every story has at least one, even if just to describe something as a sound (like the “whistle in a dog’s throat”).
What are your thoughts on the struture of the opening story?
Initial feelings about Hazel, the narrator? Is she going to be ‘reliable’?
Favourite lines, images?
How would you react if your mother had been dead for decades when you found out?
And if you found out that these cells were taken without your mother’s consent, and that biotechnology companies were reproducing them for profit, what then?
These questions are at the heart of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the first book by Rebecca Skloot. The premise – that a poor black woman’s cells became the basis for revolutionary (and lucrative) scientific research – seems like science fiction. However, it is science fact, and Skloot skillfully outlines what little we know of Henrietta’s life and death, and how her life after death benefited the scientific community, even as her own family did not know that her malignant cells existed in petri dishes across the country.
Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who had little formal education, and picked tobacco in the same fields as her slave ancestors. In 1951, she died of cancer which originated in her cervix but spread voraciously through her body, covering her liver, kidneys, and bladder. During her first round of radiation treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins, her doctor cut two dime-sized pieces of tissue from her cervix – one from her tumour, and one from healthy cervical tissue – without her knowledge or consent. Her tissue was then taken to the laboratory of Dr. George Gey, who, like many doctors at the time, was attempting to culture live cells in labs for research purposes. Like almost every other cell sample, Henrietta’s normal cells died after a few days in the culture. However, her malignant cells did not – they grew and thrived, so much so that other doctors, upon learning of their’ “immortality,” were freely given samples of her cultures for their own research projects.
These cells – now called HeLa, after portions of Henrietta’s name – grew steadily and rapidly, and were remarkably sensitive to contamination by viruses. HeLa cells were instrumental in tests ensuring the viability of Salk’s polio vaccine. They were used in tests examining the effects of radiation on human tissues. They even went into space, being included in the Discoverer XVIII satellite. What’s more, they were incredibly robust, so much so that contamination of other supposedly “pure” cell lines by HeLa became a cause for controversy in scientific communities.
All the while, Henrietta’s family – her siblings, husband, children, and grandchildren – never knew of the importance of her cells to scientific research until 1973, more than twenty years after her death. They didn’t learn about the monetary value of HeLa cells to the scientific community until 1975, when an article was written about them in Rolling Stone. Since then, members of Lacks’ family have been convinced that they deserve part of the profits derived from HeLa cells.
Skoot painfully details the Lacks family’s circumstances before and after they learn about the HeLa cells, including the abuse of Henrietta’s children after her death, her youngest son’s encounters with the justice system, her youngest daughter’s fears about her own medical safety, and the effect of the cycle of poverty. By the time Skloot made contact with the Lacks family, its members were deeply suspicious of her motives and worried about another white person trying to profit off of their experiences: even though HeLa cells are worth millions and kept in labs around the world, Henrietta’s own children live on welfare and can’t afford health insurance. Skloot’s descriptions of her encounters with Henrietta’s family are factual and not melodramatic, yet deeply caring and full of respect.
This book, then, is not just about the value of one little-known woman’s contribution to science. It is also about the rights we have to our own bodies when our tissues are kept in labs, the changing nature of informed consent, and how families deal with a potentially devastating legacy. While the ethical implications of HeLa research are staggering, Skloot writes about them with a remarkable even-handedness, and about Henrietta’s family with warmth and care.
Once again, this discussion starts at the bottom and reads upwards. Please scroll down to begin.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Mon, 14 December 2009 19:57:38 -0400
Frank, I’m still smiling after reading your note. Partly because I feel I’ve just been on a lovely vicarious cruise of South American ports and partly because I’m so impressed that you took with you a book you had no expectation of liking yet not only perservered in the reading but came away feeling you’d had a “voyage of discovery” on many levels…. wow. That’s some holiday! I also had no idea what “Beat” meant; there’s a couple of places in the book where Jack explains that it’s, essentially, short for ‘beatific’ — the original idea being a kind of search for joy and beauty in life. They got (more than) a little off track of course, but the intentions were actually noble. Turned out to be more of a musical association, a lifestyle, an appearance, after On The Road came out — which I don’t suppose was ever taken as Jack intended. An eye opening book for sure. I’ve got a copy of On the Road that I’m also going to read, but from what I understand, this was not Kerouac’s best book, merely his most famous. Funny how that works… Thank you so much for sharing your experience of the book club selection! (I could almost smell that sea air…!)
118 Frank Young
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sat, 12 December 2009 18:46:49 -0400
20 Pages a day of What Happened Later by Ray Robertson By Frank B. Young First day at sea November 23rd 2009 I obtained this book free from guessing a correct answer to an obscure question posed by the WCDR book club, the answer to which, I must admit was a wild guess on my part. I must say at this point that it was not a book I would have chosen to buy or even borrow from the library. I do not have a very sophisticated taste in the books I read as a rule and usually stick to things that interest me. Being of the right age group I vaguely remember having heard of jack Kerouac and the Beat generation but never really knew what that was all about being too busy at the time working and helping raise our family. Day 11 somewhere between Ecuador and Peru December 2nd 2009 Well I had intended to read 20 pages a day and considered a cruise was a good way to do that. It hasn’t worked out quite that way but I am up to page 207 which if you divide by 11 equals (err let me see) yes 18.81 pages a day which isn’t bad. I must admit the first three pages put me off. Why? I asked myself, would I want to know any more about a drunken lout lying on the streetcar tracks. Nevertheless, I persisted and why am still not completely sure what the Beat generation was all about I have enjoyed the book so far. Now like Ray Robertson, I feel I must search the bookstores and local libraries for a copy of “On the Road” Even though Kerouac and I have absolutely nothing in common I feel somewhat of a bond having had my brilliant work rejected many times over the years. December 12 Home again I have not been on the road but I have had a voyage of discovery. This morning I was fortunate in being able to attend the December WCDR meeting, and who should be the speaker? Why yes, Ray Robertson himself. I must say I was impressed when he talked about reading out of your comfort zone. I intend to do a lot more of that in the future. Though not, I think, romance novels. 12
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 9 December 2009 18:52:26 -0400
Hi Sharon…Nice to see you. After reading your post I flipped to p.38 to see what magic, specifically, hooked you. As it happens, the chapter that begins on p.39 is one of my favourites, if not my favourite. The whole experience of ‘fame’ is so neatly put into perspective. I’ve said, probably a thousand times by now, that one of the things I love best about this book is the way it comes from such a ‘true’ place. And I don’t mean true in a ‘it really happened’ way. I couldn’t care less if any of it really happened; if you told me the real RR actually spent his childhood as a small girl in Hungary, and Jack Kerouac never existed at all, it wouldn’t affect one teensy aspect of how I feel when I read, or what I get from, the book. I think the magic in WHL is, as you say, the language, but also the integrity with which the characters are written. The details that are so spot on…a tough thing to achieve and maintain throughout as well as RR has done. I mean, does he ever miss even one beat? (no pun intended)
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 9 December 2009 14:31:35 -0400
I’m a bit late in joining, but what the heck. I haven’t yet read anyone’s comments, so this is my unbiased take on What Happened Later. When I first started reading the book, it took me a while to get into it. I was up to about page 38 when I decided it was time to read a few more pages and then leave it, or keep going. Well, I kept going and couldn’t put it down. The prose is so fast (both Jack’s and Ray’s); it’s easy to read it that way, but even better to go back and savour all of the words. I love Jack Kerouac’s writing, the whole beat era (esp. Lawrence Ferlinghetti – the first book of poetry I ever bought) and I think Ray’s writing has kept up Jack’s pace. I also happen to love Jim Morrison and that whole era – so this book has a lot of me in it. Just wish I could write this good. My thoughts certainly go as quick as Ray’s writing sometimes, it’s just getting it down. Anyway, that’s my take on What Happenes Later. I’m really looking forward to seeing Ray on Saturday.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Tue, 8 December 2009 15:49:40 -0400
There’s a write up in (past) Events; I had a grand time! Thanks to everyone for coming out and making our first B&B so darned fun.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Mon, 7 December 2009 23:37:23 -0400
Bevvies and Books was an unqualified success! Thank you Carin for putting this together. I enjoyed it immensely, from hearing each person’s favourite passages being read, to the discussions, to the
great food, to the wonderful reading by Lucy Brennan of passages from James Stephen’s wonderful book, The Crock of Gold. This get together had everything. Let’s do this again soon!
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Mon, 7 December 2009 23:21:24 -0400
What a fabulous evening! Thanks to everybody who came out – and thank you Carin SO MUCH for organizing it and leading it. Your passion for the book comes through clearly in this website, but it came through even more clearly in person. What a delight. That was fun!!
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sun, 6 December 2009 15:14:54 -0400
To continue the Jack theme; I’m officially now pretty crazy about him. I know I know, what a noxious bit of space he occupied and blech to his whole stupid mess of a life…but. But but but. He loved that Georgia pine. He felt that ‘seasons were to places what souls were to people’. He held a kitten named Tyke up so he could see the moon and asked how science could explain that. He knew that a story needed “… a flesh and blood body on the other side of the book telling the story and not just a bunch of nouns and verbs and adjectives held together under house arrest by a bully bunch of rules of composition some mastermind mammon cooked up to keep everybody talking and thinking and living the exact same way. Because ask yourself this, Mac: Were we born and do we suffer and do we die just so we can all sound the same? What a spit in God’s eye, that.” (p.227) Because all he really wanted was “…to be Cervantes alone by moonlight.” I’m so glad RR ended the Jack storyline in midstream, with Jack on a (for him) high, despite the fact that his wife had left him and he was penniless, but “…none of it mattered because someone–him–had finally kicked American Literature’s tired ass into the twentieth century.” I love that “He felt like a character in a novel who realizes something.” And I especially love that the last image we have of Kerouac (though we know he has a long pitiful road ahead of him) is this: “He took a long drag on his cigarette. He let the stars swallow him.” As I’ve said before, I can’t imagine this story being told in any other way. It’s blinking genius from start to end. Next installment, my thoughts on the Ray character. How about yours?
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sat, 28 November 2009 15:23:50 -0400
Ruth, I like Jack too. He may have ten thousand problems but who is he screwing up other than himself, right? I mean, he’s not an evil guy. (Neither is he Ghandi of course; he probably has the normal amount of prejudice and misogyny that American men of his generation were blessed with.) As a character, as RR has portrayed him, I find Kerouac quite fascinating (though would not want to live with him) and can’t help agreeing with much of what he says… I read something completely unrelated recently that, coincidentally, quoted Kerouac’s views on the importance of living a good life; ‘good’ as in valuing the important things: work, friends, family, love, truth, decency. I believe this was a troubled man, certainly, but also one with much, much more to him… and not just the guy with the clown nose that he ended up portraying for people. Deep sigh. Oh god. Now I have to do math again.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sat, 28 November 2009 15:00:46 -0400
Peter, I saw your comments in Favourite Bits; glad you’re enjoying various aspects of the book. I knew it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but, as you say, there’s so much to be learned from reading outside our normal box. Like seeing with fresh eyes. And thanks for opening up the discussion to stylistic elements… a whole huge subject in itself! I found the italicized dialogue took some getting used to, but after that not a problem. There’s a trend, I think, in publishing, towards quotation-less dialogue. What I didn’t love initially (but soon realized was perfect and couldn’t be otherwise) was the use of his own name as the young boy. Then as the stories merge it all begins to make sense (and is so beautifully enhanced by the last line); everything written about ‘Jack the character’ has actually come from ‘Ray the character’, and the boy, even as he’s telling us the story, KNOWS the story. (But what story does he know? It’s all fictional; Ray wasn’t in that car with Joe and Jack…) Makes your head spin. I guess that’s the point. (Can you imagine this story being told any other way?) I’m looking forward to hearing him talk about the process of writing; very curious to know the outlining process for this and if he wrote it initially in alternate chapters or not.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sat, 28 November 2009 00:10:57 -0400
Okay. I’ve been away and now the book is upstairs and I’ve read all your comments and I think you have all posted up the quotes I love. But I have to say that the idea of enjoying Ray more than Jack — well, I totally get that. Of course I enjoy Ray more…well, I guess I feel more protective of him. I mean, why else would that bit about the filling of the doughnut falling on the seat of the car stick with me so much? I cringed before I even heard his dad’s voice because, of course, I’d been there in that damn car seat. Only mine was ice cream. Enough emotional dishing. What I adore about Jack is that he is, to me, absolutely a realized being. I shouldn’t care about this man who had his chance — he’s no Ray, right? Only I also know that fictional Jack was a lot like fictional Ray and if things had gone differently – fictional-based-on-real-Jack Jack might have had such a different ability to make his way through his genius. And so, despite the abhorrent behaviour and loutish goings-on, I feel quite tender about Jack and his stalwart Pancho. Yes. I said it. There is a bit of windmill tilting here too. Not sure where it is, but I think it may have something to do with “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. I smell windmills all over that one and I so want to hang those words on my wall to remember each and every day why the H. E. Double L. I do this thing. And PULEEZE can we use a non-number AntiSPAMbot technique?!?!? I can’t always access my calculator…
108 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 27 November 2009 12:26:25 -0400
Wow, thanks for that, Sue. That is fascinating. I’d like to comment on what is so far my favourite line from the book. “The next time he came back home, it wasn’t.” Now, that’s something I can relate to. There is a point in your life where you go back home to see parents or whatever, and something has changed. The concept of “home” has changed physically and in your mind. It was fascinating how Robertson played on that concept for this scene. For me, it was one of those “I wish I’d written that” sentences!
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 25 November 2009 13:27:39 -0400
Now when I am reading I’m stopping every other page and thinking THIS is what I want to comment on! then three pages later, NO THIS! I want to talk about this!! But actually THIS is what I’m going to talk about today: When I was studying with Natalie Goldberg one time, she read us some of Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. Except that I forgot that it was Kerouac and I forgot what it was called. But when I encountered it again on page 111, I thought, “That’s it!” and googled it. I insert the results below. A couple of pages later Jack talks about his writing. “The novel is dead,” Jack said. “I should know, I helped write the corpse cold years ago.” And the reason it was dead was because “Life hasn’t got a plot, so honest art shouldn’t have one either.” A little later Jack’s revelation while he was living through the experiences that he would later record in “On the Road” – “Oh my God, this is what litereature is supposed to sound like – one man simply telling another man the simple humiliations and agonies and always-too-late epiphanies that add up to his and everybody else’s life – and not a sack of tricky tropes to be toted out and professionally employed in order to expertly con the reader into imagining a pretty little Book Club-approved daydream.” (And isn’t THAT an ironic thing to be posting on this website!) And then the question farther down the page: Maybe because life doesn’t have a plot, maybe that’s precisely why a novel needs one.” I glue myself to that last idea. I think that’s why the vast majority of books sold are genre books. Why Harlequins don’t do print runs less than 50,000 as we heard at breakfast a few months ago. Because we want our literature to have a plot. And if possible, without feeling too Hollywood, a happy ending. JACK KEROUAC BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE LIST OF ESSENTIALS 1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy 2. Submissive to everything, open, listening 3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house 4. Be in love with yr life 5. Something that you feel will find its own form 6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind 7. Blow as deep as you want to blow 8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind 9. The unspeakable visions of the individual 10. No time for poetry but exactly what is 11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest 12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you 13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition 14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time 15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog 16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye 17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself 18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea 19. Accept loss forever 20. Believe in the holy contour of life 21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind 22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better 23. Keep track of
every day the date emblazoned in yr morning 24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge 25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it 26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form 27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness 28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better 29. You’re a Genius all the time 30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven http://www.poetspath.com/transmissions/messages/kerouac.html And also, in researching that, I actually read some bio stuff on Kerouac himself. Amazing how much I’ve already picked up from reading the book. It’s a really cool version of “show don’t tell” about research! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Kerouac
Check the ‘Sign of the Times’ category (under Topics for Discussion, to the right); I’ve written about those swivel stools too! The sad thing is that there’s so few places left like that. I wonder if anyone will be writing nostalgia about Starbucks thirty years from now? One of the things I do love best about the book is the way RR is able to so firmly, so seamlessly, and without gimmick, place us in these (very) separate worlds. I mean, can you get more ordinary than Ray’s perfectly lovely suburban family? It’s like a icy shower when you then turn the page and begin the next ‘Jack’ chapter. But, amazingly, we’re taken into that world also… making it even more hilarious to come back to Ray’s and see the (simplicity of) truth through HIS eyes. I never get tired of reading this. It’s like a delicious painting to me. I notice something new every time I dive in. So glad you’ve come back to it!!!
105 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Tue, 24 November 2009 11:30:50 -0400
OK, I’ve re-read a lot of the beginning of the book, this time paying more attention. Although this book is not my cup of tea, I have to say, Ray has caught the “voice” of Kerouac well. I can only wonder how much time, effort and research went into carrying that off. Someone recently posted on here – Carin, I think – that he captures the essence of the times well, and that is bang on. I’m a lot older than Ray, but that scene in the diner with the white vinyl swivel seats transported me back to my teens – except the vinyl was red in our diner. I’m enjoying the book more rereading parts a second time. This book accomplishes what I aspire to – literary writing that is also hilariously funny in places. I am appreciating it on a new level for that reason alone.
104 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Mon, 23 November 2009 08:57:48 -0400
I just passed the part with the sandwich. The scene about riding the bus with his mother and eating in the diner is also priceless. What I’m discovering is that as a reader, I relate to Ray much more than Jack. As a writer, I appreciate the complexity of what Ray does in the book by weaving the two lives together.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sun, 22 November 2009 22:28:33 -0400
I’m with you Dorothea on the French GI Joe scene. I laughed so hard. I could just see him walking up to his mom with it, that look of horror on his face. Ray isn’t clear whether his grandmother knew it was French all along, or that once realized, the poor fellow would spend the rest of his life as a POW!
102 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sun, 22 November 2009 17:33:15 -0400
I want to go back earlier in the book. I have to say, the whole scene with getting the French-speaking GI Joe from his grandmother is hilarious. The humour in the book is charming. I’d also like to say that I haven’t been reading this book as a writer, which is entirely against the rules. I’ve been reading it as a reader. I promise I’ll pay more attention from now on. Really.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Sat, 21 November 2009 10:47:32 -0400
Sorry to have missed posting for a few days, but here are the highlights for me from the book pages 41 to 123: The juxtaposition of the relationship between young Ray and his parents (particularly his father) and the relationship between Jack and Joe is one of the most intriguing and well written aspects of the book. Ray’s young perspectives on the things important to a young boy are insightful, endearing and often comical. Even the elements of his worshiping Jim Morrison and the Doors while raising “Going Down the Road” (which he hasn’t read) to its place of idolatry contain a poignancy that is difficult to resist. Opposed to this is the netherworld of bennies, booze, hangovers and rants. The relationship between Jack and Joe changes with Jack’s moods: chauffeur and debutante; enabler and addict; babbler and listener; bodyguard and star; sinner and forgiver; husband and wife. I found Jack’s Buddhist ravings a convenient excuse for his misbehaviours, and I don’t buy any of it. As I indicated few days ago, I went through a “road” phase in my life, and I find it hard to read this book in places. I was the Joe to a few Jacks in my life, mostly because I could drive better than any of them, and I wouldn’t put my life in their hands EVER to let them drive. As Robertson recounted earlier in this book, every drunk/addict is taking the slow way to the grave because they don’t have the courage to suicide, or they’re afraid if they do they’ll just end up in a worse place for eternity. Something eats away at them like acid. Dealing with whatever is going on inside them is a torment infinitely worse than a Brandy hangover. Nobody in that frame of mind can ever be trusted to drive just in case they get that split second of courage and decide to end it the fast way. The best bit of writing in the book so far has to be the tale of Sammy. (pg 101 – 103) that brilliant, vibrant literate influence on Jack when he was young, Sammy’s tragic, horrible death and the meaning of bravery: “but it had been a long, long time since he’d felt like he wanted to be brave.” I am enjoying
Robertson’s capacity for understatement and innuendo with these Jack segments. I also like the way the POV fluctuates between Joe and Jack, even though we know almost nothing about Joe except his dead wife and runaway son. Joe’s reasons for drinking and carousing are becoming more evident. I think it important to add that Joe is very likely consuming just as much as Jack is, or perhaps a different kind of inebriant cocktail mixture. To each his own, as they say. I like the way the themes jump from one scene to the next, one POV to another. Ray’s cleverness as a writer is delightful and subtle.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 20 November 2009 23:12:34 -0400
Okay, my entry today is going to be about page 73 – where the very young Ray plans to leave home. He leaves the note “I HATE YOU!” on his mom’s ironing board. But then he gets distracted by his GI Joes, and by the time he’s finished playing with them he’s hungry and running away from home doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. The note is gone, but on the kitchen table “there was a Kraft cheese slice and Miracle Whip and lettuce sandwich surrounded on every side of the plate by a couple handfuls of Fritos. It was my all-time favourite sandwich.” The young Ray puzzles about why would somebody do something nice for somebody else if they’d done something bad to them? I love the way Jack’s Buddhism, pseudo or not, is woven in with Ray’s grappling with philosophy at a whole other level.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 20 November 2009 23:03:47 -0400
We’ve been getting spam on here (which I keep deleting, although everybody’s responses to it are so entertaining I’m tempted to leave it on!) so this is a test of the new anti-spam measures. Lets see if they work. And Carin – thanks for the comments re: Cam – he is indeed an interesting kid!
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 20 November 2009 22:15:27 -0400
Sue, you said something about Cameron liking both Kerouac and Morrison…I think that’s a good thing. As with young Ray, he’s very likely attracted to their words and brains, not their lifestyle. And, like Ray, he’ll figure it out. I’m thinking of the scene in the book where Ray’s friend calls and tells him that Morrison may have been influenced by Anais Nin and Blake… Ray’s momentarily crushed by the very idea, but of course we can assume he went on to realize everyone’s influenced by someone and there’s worse than Anais Nin and Blake. (Or Morrison and Kerouac.) Sounds like you’ve got an interesting kid. Oh, what a surprise.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 20 November 2009 21:48:25 -0400
I’ve opened up a new topic (off to the right) — Sign of the Times. Part of the honesty in this book comes as a result of RR’s evocation of the era, so thought it might be fun to make a list of things and what they evoke for us. I started with 8 tracks.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Fri, 20 November 2009 10:27:20 -0400
It happens occasionally; we think it could be Kerouac trying to get through. By the way, we’ve started a new thread dedicated entirely to: Not My Thing and Here’s Why. (under Topics for Discussion, to the right —>) Can’t wait to hear some Here’s Whys!. (I realize I can’t be an official member of the Here’s Why club… still, I did submit one small offering.) If anyone has a suggestion for a specific topic they’d like to discuss, let me know. I’ll be opening a new heading later today…
89 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 15:12:49 -0400
Well, let’s see. I guess it’s the content, but I’m not offended or worried about it. I just don’t relate to it. I keep thinking – how can you people afford to be on the road with no responsibilities? I find the characters passionless. I don’t particularly “like” any of the characters in Kerouac’s or Robinson’s books, and I have to like or relate to someone to keep me interested. Again, theirs are voices that don’t resonate with me. I can, however, recognize the brilliance of the writing.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 11:24:54 -0400
Jessica… Don’t put pressure on yourself. Read a few pages a day, or more, and pop in when you can. I was just saying in my message to Dorothea, that we’re about to include another component to the discussion, i.e. posts under different topic headings that you can then look over and choose which you want to comment on. Or you can suggest a whole new thread. That way everyone doesn’t feel they have to comment on The Big Picture each time. Which can get clunky. So. As for where you should be by Saturday. The idea was about 20 pages a day — we’re discussing the chunks as we go — but that’s just a guideline for anyone who wants a guideline. If you’d rather read at your own pace, then do! Thoughts from page 2 are as welcome as from page 102. And digressions are always welcome. By the way, this is all an experiment, and we, the inaugural book clubees, are all part of it. Our (collective, diverse and possibly ever-changing)comments, ideas and suggestions to improve/change things, are what will make the club evolve. So PLEASE, never never hesitate to say what’s working for you and what’s not. ttfn,
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 11:01:39 -0400
A variety of thoughts, opinions, impressions, tastes… it’s not only good, it’s essential. And thoroughly wonderful. Dorothea, I’m thrilled that your take on WHL is different than mine! My intention for the book club was to offer books that we might not read on our own, to step outside our comfort zones and try something new. And maybe hate it. And maybe love it. But most importantly, to maybe learn something from each other in the process of discussing, not only the book, but the feelings it inspires…the hate/love of it. Maybe it’s just me, but as a writer I want to know why someone dislikes something I write, as much as why they like it. As a reader, I find the same process interesting. I can’t imagine being part of a group where everyone ONLY ever agrees on everything. As Sue said, it’s not a love-in. Thank god. (I’ve never been to one but the very idea has always given me the creeps…) Far from being annoyed, I’m tempted to send you a virtual fruit basket to thank you for your honesty, and for opening the discussion in all directions. We’re going to re-structure the discussion element to include posts on various subjects. Why I’m Not Nuts For This Book or Aspects of It, might be a good place to start. So… would you like Bosc or Bartlett pears??
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 09:57:34 -0400
Hey Dorothea, Why would we be mad? This isn’t a love-in! Obviously there are voices who so far have not weighed in on this page, and you modelling what it looks like to say “This isn’t working for me” is great. Maybe a discussion of what it is that’s not working would be interesting. Is it the voice? The content & subject matter? Is one of the two voices more problematic than the other? I have my problems with the content. I read about Kerouac’s determined self-annihilation and I find myself feeling depressed. And also, I read about the young Ray’s idealization of Morrison and JK and I get anxious – Cameron also admires Morrison and has read Kerouac – I worry about him thinking that kind of life is “cool”. So the content makes me anxious and uncomfortable (especially as a mom). But I have to say the writing and the voices (both of them) blow me away
85 Dorothea Helms
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 08:50:24 -0400
Gang, I’m trying. Really. I read three or four pages of Ray’s book and I find that’s enough at one time. It’s not that I’m offended or anything – just bored. I found Kerouac’s book had the same effect on me – same stuff, different page. Don’t be angry with me – I acknowledge Robertson’s genius as a writer. I understand why so many of you are gung-ho on the book. It’s just not a voice that speaks to me. Does that make sense?
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Thu, 19 November 2009 08:22:46 -0400
I’ve fallen behind…hope to catch up on the weekend. What page should I be at by Saturday?
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 18 November 2009 18:55:40 -0400
Just read that chapter again, starting on p.68…and I realize I’m still not sure of the ‘that’ referred to in the first sentence (I assume it’s his usual quest, the Beat quest, the idea of harmony, of living in a way that makes sense); but is this statement coming out of the blue (to Joe as well as to the reader)? Or have I missed something? Also, when Joe finally speaks, he says: Pascal. I’m definitely missing something here. I do love, though, his own wild ride, beginning with blasting society’s endless desire to keep moving, to find diversions from reality, then, thinking about his brother’s death, which also feels out of the blue — so I’m wondering if it’s connected to the ‘that’ — maybe he’s been thinking about compassion all along, without having named it, even to himself, and then when he does, when it all crystalizes in his mind, when he knows the specifics of what he’s talking about, he says: “Can’t this thing go any faster?”) Yikes. Of course I could be right out to lunch on this!
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 18 November 2009 13:04:53 -0400
Carin, when you talk about how Ray uses the quote from the previous chapter to set up the next chapter – I’m starting to see how he does this most of the time. But it’s usually very subtle. One that is NOT so subtle is at the end of the chapter that begins with the quote you’ve cited before: “All philosophy is a footnote to a jelly-filled donut.” p. 63 (which, incidentally comes after Jack’s motel musing on Buddhism and death and how to be AND not to be is really the only question). And then we move into the intensity of the front seat of the car and the jelly error and the young Ray’s regretful musing on “If” at the end of the chapter. And then at the beginning of the next chapter (Jack’s this time) he begins the second paragraph with a hard emphasis on the word “If”. (And then he follows it up with a childhood scene of Jack in his parent’s car). I could read the whole thing again just paying attention to his stitching, which is masterful.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Wed, 18 November 2009 12:03:09 -0400
“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” This line (p.22) keeps bouncing around my head and moreso with James’ comments about the Russia/Canada scene (beautiful, I agree, the image of him standing at attention while he sang the anthem in the bathroom). Again, he is SO earnest. I like how RR has used Johnson’s quote to set up the hockey chapter and that love-in of shared beer and backslapping; was that a kind of hypocrisy disguised as patriotism? Or did patriotism truly erase any
class lines for even a fleeting moment; is that the power of it? And, if so, what good is a fleeting moment except to feel good, and confuse everyone, for a fleeting moment… He sets up a major theme of the book with the patriotism line, I think. So much of it is about feeling good for mere moments, things that aren’t lasting: school heroes, quick teenage gropes, the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol, the illusion of fame. I find myself considering how we live our lives (some more than others) in search of fleeting moments that feel good vs living our lives… Still thinking. More to come re the next chunk.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Tue, 17 November 2009 15:15:20 -0400
I’ve got 40 pages to write about today – I’ve kept to my commitment to read 20 per day, but I didn’t have time to write yesterday. So as I read through it this second time I am struck by how different the experience is. The first time I was enjoying the story and galloped through. The second time I am really sinking into it and paying a lot more attention. A number of themes are becoming apparent to me in these 40 pages and they weave through both stories. 1) class 2) culture, particularly French Canadian vs. English (this intersects with class as well – particularly with Ray and his two sets of grandparents) 3) alcohol and it’s effects (class intesects here too) 4) male friendship, particularly Joe/Jack and Ray/James 5) and finally, a kind of anti-intellectualism that also intersects with class So, 1) Class. There are so many instances of this. The mention that both the men on the floor and the supervisors drank together out of the same case of beer after the Canada win in the hockey game implying that this was something really unusual. Ray visiting the Franklin’s house. The rich kids at school and how they dressed different so they’d recognize each other and how they came back from holidays with their “buttery Bermuda tans”. The line I love best from this is how the Franklin’s house is really not all that different “just crammed full of better brand name versions of all of the same crap that we had.” (p. 45) Alcohol intersects here – and irony – we’ve been treated to all of these horror scenes of the very drunk Kerouac already, and now we have Dr. Franklin bopping through his house, very preppy, and getting more looped by the minute. Ray’s dad’s comment when he picks him up: “You look at Dr. Franklin. He used his head, he used his brains. Now look at him.” Once again, just the same as Jack’s alcoholism, just better surroundings and probably a better brand of something to sip on. 2) culture. There is Jack’s brand of French Canadian – the ancestral baron Alexandre – his oft repeated story. And Ray’s French Canadian grandparents with their own history of poverty, domestic disturbance and alcohol abuse. I LOVED the scene with Ray opening his French GI Joe, and how Joe always ends up the Foreigner, under heavily armed guard. Definitely to be different is to be not-as-good-as. And yet there is Ray’s drive to be different like Jim Morrison, different like Jack K. 3) Alcohol – I’ve already alluded to some of it. There are all the many bar scenes with Jack. The references to the horror show of Ray’s mom’s childhood. The best lines about this whole issue, for me, are: “But what comes first, the chicken or the alcoholic? Jack always drank, no he really, really drank. Before, it was because of blah blah blah; now, it was because of et cetera et cetera. Give a junkie junk and he’ll give you a reason. Chemistry will find a way.” (p. 41). 4) Male friendships. The first page in these 40 is the end of our introduction to Joe, who for me is one of the most intriguing characters in the book. What is it that holds his loyalty so steadily to Jack? It’s echoed by Ray’s choosing CCI just because James is going there. 5) Anti-intellectualism. Ditto the line above regarding CCI. There’s all kinds of small, dropped allusions to it. The “celebrities” of the high school being hockey stars. The place of the two bookstores in Chatham. Best of all the speech of the Viking marketing rep about why Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD should be picked up. All spin. Structurally, I love the delicate way Robertson picks up the themes, runs them through 2 or three chapters and then drops them and picks up something else. But in the meantime, he’s stitched the two stories together. Looking forward to the next 20 pages.
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Tue, 17 November 2009 14:34:27 -0400
I was choked up by the time I finished reading page 23 to 26, that whole experience of the Canada-Russia series. The boy and his dad in such an intimate place as the bathroom, the claustrophobia of the small space, the standing tall and singing the national anthem, the BEING something bigger than we are, that sense of unspoken pride and heartache all in one. Sure we’re just a little nation, sure we work in the steel mill, sure we only get dad to ourselves when he’s cleaning up in the bathtub, but we won, he says, we won, eyes closed saying nothing. Supervisors and workers sharing beer from the same case, men shaking hands, women hugging, all of us a part of the victory just as surely as all of us would have been isolated by the loss. Nobody could win the nuclear holocaust against the big Russian Bear, but Canada, each and every one of us, we won. The United States had just lost the Vietnam War. We forget the horror of the cold war we lived in. We remember the mistreatment of our hockey players by the Communists regime. We remember the crooked officiating and attempts to cow us into losing heart. We remember the criticism of the press when Canada was getting beaten handily in the early games. Then young Phil Esposito’s sad eyes in that press conference saying we’re doing the best we can. We need your support. The whole country was embarrassed. The whole country believed him and jumped on board, not at the top when they were magnificent, but at the bottom when we had so little hope of winning. At the bottom, all of us in it together, no matter what. We remember the heat of that magnificent victory even as we skated together on the cold hard surface of that hostile foreign ice and we found a way. We won. There never was another event like it afterwards, probably never will be again. Canada’s filled up with people who weren’t here that day, know nothing about us or hockey. “The author of On the Road didn’t drive.” LOL p.29. “He forgot to say his rosary so I stabbed him in the heart with my Smith-Corona.” Like the way the Catholic guilt motive sneaks in every so often. Liked the segue from page 33 (Ray picking a high school) to page 34 (Jack deciding where to go to university) Page 37 – how creepy is that reading about Jim Morrison dying in the bathtub in Paris in 1971 right after the scene of Ray and his dad in the bathtub? Anyone know who else famous died in a bathtub in Paris? “Never underestimate people who have paper clips for souls.”
Guestbook #1 Submitted on Mon, 16 November 2009 10:34:35 -0400
Hey Peter, James, and Ingrid…great to see you here. Just logging in my “favourite bit” from the next 20. (Okay, two favourite bits.) One from a Ray chapter, (p.30-31) where he’s talking about the
‘celebrities of the hallways’ the All Star hockey players who play in Memorial Arena, which he describes as having been built in the 40′s in honour of fallen veterans. Then…”Northside Arena, where the house league played, was built in the early 70′s and was called what it was because it was built on the city’s north side.” Love that deadpan delivery. And a Jack one: The scene (p.36) where he’s at the fancy restaurant trying to cut the string off his Cornish hen with a butter knife. The waiter tactfully suggests the ‘other’ knife might be more useful… Jack just kept sawing away. “That’s all right, Mac,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty strong arm.” Gotta run. Will check back later.