Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's Too Hot For CanLit: Canada Day Weekend At The Cottage

I write this from the porch of my cottage. It's part of the Adler family complex on Lake Simcoe, just north of the onion farms of Canal Road.

I write because I can't read. It's been a beautiful day; the sun's been shining, the weather's been perfect. A nice breeze, no humidity, and great light. It's not the kind of day that you can be out there reading The Time In Between. And I tried, I really did. But you can't read Canadian literature on a nice day.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a Muskoka chair, reading Elizabeth Hay's A Student of Weather. It was 105 fahrenheit, and the tremclad paint on the softwood lumber was starting to melt. But I was really into the book. I kept thinking, "Maybe I should get out the toboggan. Is it too early to tap for maple syrup? Rosh Hashana went by so fast this year."

Every Canadian book makes me think of fall. I was just thinking of Anne Hebert today--just thinking! And I swear that I looked up at a maple tree and wondered why the leaves hadn't turned orange.

A particularly nice friend sent me a copy of Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip, and for a couple hundred pages I was in the South Pacific. People were sleeping on woven mats. Then I read The Cellist of Sarajevo, and for the next eleven days I watched the lamp lit at noon.

A friend--a professor of literature--once told me that he could never be a protagonist in a Canadian book because he didn't think that he could ever really lose his sense of humour. He was writing a novel which I thought had a lot of promise. The plot, briefly, concerned a university student who witnessed a school shooting. He survived, and was overcome by a sense of guilt. At the same time a family of women--three daughters and a mother--experienced the loss of its patriarch (who was killed in a car crash). The family retreated to their cottage, and the (male) university student--who had been excused for the duration of the semester-- was hired on as a kind of groundskeeper. They would all be isolated together in another take on the Heart of Darkness/Ulysses (not the Joyce) plot. They would be wrecked on each other, would sleep with each other, and finally one would emerge as strong enough for the postmodern world.

I really liked the plot. And the book was written. I read it; it was terrific. When he went to shop it around, the rejection slips all said the same thing: "Interesting, but too funny. Why all the jokes? Canadian or not?"

"David," he told me, "just because the guy sees people getting killed doesn't mean that he turns into a stone. But that's what they want. And this 'Canadian' bullshit! What the hell is that?

"David, not everyone thinks emotional navel-gazing is beautiful. Nothing ever ends well, but it doesn't end now. Plenty of people live."

So I sat on the deck playing Phil Ochs's I Ain't Marchin' Anymore on my cheap Gibson acoustic guitar. I would've played Sundown, but I felt like smiling.

1 comment:

Neill said...

I'd love to know if he ever got the book sold, and what he titled it.

All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
Site Meter