Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What’ll Happen To Us When Margaret Atwood Dies

What’ll Happen To Us When Margaret Atwood Dies

With Margaret Atwood closing in on seventy, the Canadian Press might want to start working on a secession plan. Who’s the next go-to quote when Queen’s Park cuts arts funding?; who’s the next go-to shot at the televised Gillers?; who’s the next articulate, palatable, non-agoraphobe to get out there and be our thematic presence? (That’s not a bad thing; this is Canadian writing, not non-national, globalized, rootless fiction. We can have a Canadian tradition and a postcolonial tradition—but we need people capable of telling those stories. Otherwise Michael Helm is the next national hero in New Zealand.)

Alice Munro’s seventy-six and gets nervous on the telephone. She's also slightly more private (for some reason) than Johnny Carson. Pierre Berton is dead. Farley Mowat is eighty-six and too much of a male presence to make it for Canadian writing; I know for a fact that his “biblical” appearance is keeping him out of the media. And who wants to listen to Mowat, anyway? If I’m packing up for Ellesmere Island, I’ll call Farley. Otherwise, give me someone with flush toilets in his house; someone connected to the gas and sewer systems. Rudy Wiebe? Fine. Great. Will he move to Toronto?

So who’s next?

Ideally we’d need a middle-aged writer with the ability to appear in public without visibly shaking. So nix Carol Shields and Barbara Gowdy. It would help if that person weren’t a terse, condescending asshole. So Ondaatje’s out--same with Michael Winter. Vincent Lam? Well, like I said, ideally the person would be a writer. I don’t know how much Elizabeth Hay knows about Canada, but she could be interesting. She’s won some major prizes and is deep in the classic Canadian aesthetic. Plus she buys her clothes from stores that could actually be located in a mall. (A big step for Canadian writers.) And I like Camilla Gibb as a person. But would Americans know who the hell she is? We could sell her as the Canadian most likely to have written an episode of Gilmore Girls. The Canuck Amy Sherman-Palladino.

But none of the aforementioned is a real personality. I assume they have personalities, but my guess is, in a room, they’d just be a bunch of writers. And none is particularly offensive or controversial. Not particularly likeable, yes--in some cases. Gibb and Hay seem nice; not particularly memorable, definitely.

I’d say the next face of Canadian writing is serving either coffee or a literary apprenticeship right now. The clock’s ticking; I’d say s/he has about ten years to hit with our Portnoy’s Complaint.

And if that doesn’t happen? No more canoes.

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