Our next round of answers is posted for the first ever Newfoundland and Labrador Reads. These fine panelists, with fighting books in hand, have made some evocative and poignant arguments about why their book should be the one to take the title.
Will it be This All Happened, the book that Darcy Fitzpatrick says is “a blast of fresh oxygen that penetrated deep”, or will The Wreckage, Jamie Fitzpatrick’s choice, a book that allowed him a “small window on [his] parents and their generation” take the title? Hynes makes the argument that all we need is a great story and that in Hold Fast “you’re not gonna turn a page and suddenly wonder what the fuck is going on, who’s talking now, what year it is.” Lawrence says February is the book we all should read because it “cracks open the sternum and exposes the terrifying reality of a heart. . . in shreds.” And Chad Pelley, defending Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise, was “amazed at the utter originality of prose, character, and craft.”
Four rounds of questions remain at which point we will vote to see which book will get it. I encourage you, dear reader, to ask yourself which books (or answers) you think are pulling ahead of the rest. Find Book Fridge on Facebook or Twitter to comment or discuss.
This week the five panelists were asked: How has this book impacted you personally?
I first read This All Happened almost ten years ago to the day. I was a twenty-know-nothing, recent BFA graduate living in my parents’ basement with no idea how I was going to make my way in this world. All I knew was that I wanted it to be in the arts and that I had to try.
Being from Newfoundland always felt like a handicap in that regard. I resented studying Fine Arts in Corner Brook, and living in St. John’s felt more like a consequence than a choice. It felt so insular here, like there was no way to do anything beyond the confines of the island. I was convinced this was a problem; that I was in the wrong place and that it was always the wrong time.
It was a shitty attitude, but I just didn’t know any better. Reading This All Happened changed my perspective completely.
The book shines a spotlight on the city of St. John’s, shedding light on a place I’d been living for most of my life but had never fully appreciated. Written in a style that’s all its own, reading This All Happened was like a blast of fresh oxygen that penetrated deep into my lungs. It invigorated me and inspired me and trounced all over my shitty little attitude.
I was in the right place all along. And it’s always been the right time. That was ten years ago, and the fact remains as true, if not more so, today. If you ever find yourself calling that into question, it’s best you pick up This All Happened and get ready to take a deep breath.
It never occurred to me until you asked that question, but I think the book might have allowed me a small window on my parents and their generation. I grew up in Gander in the 1970s. My parents and their friends had all grown up in the Newfoundland of the 1920s and 1930s. They would tell stories about heating the house with a woodstove and living in communities where nobody owned a car. Just a few decades later they were living the modern middle-class life, raising families in bungalows, vacationing in Florida, holding jobs with pensions. Bernice Morgan once said that people of that generation, who lived through the 20th century, witnessed a pace of change and modernization never seen before or since, and I think she’s right. The Wreckage is a story of that generation.
JOEL THOMAS HYNES
I first read Hold Fast at age twelve. Up to that point I’d never read anything that was set in Newfoundland, voiced in my own small town lingo – and here comes along a story about a young Newfoundlander dealing with very real and traumatizing issues of loss, cultural upheaval, emotional alienation, who ultimately unearths the inner strength to rally against the injustices around him and work his way towards a sustainable and credible self-identity. I think at that age, it’s safe to say I was pretty much starved for that story. Maybe it’s the unselfconscious dialect, the urgency of the story, the no-frills portrayal of small town NL life, but I’ve probably read the book twenty times since that first reading and it remains one of about a dozen works of fiction I continuously return to. It’s allowed me to believe that there’re stories from our own back yards that are not only worth telling, but celebrating – individual, personal stories that come from the heart. Hold Fast explores and captures the NL psyche with an unpretentious, modest ease that lets the reader actually settle in and read. There’s no deciphering text here, you’re not gonna turn a page and suddenly wonder what the fuck is going on, who’s talking now, what year it is. It’s just straight up storytelling. Yes it’s been traditionally classified as a young adult novel, but there’s a reason it was denied a place on the school curriculum and as I mentioned, I reread it this past year and it holds up alongside the best books I read. Back to the question at hand, Hold Fast is the book that gave me permission to pursue the writing life, for whatever that’s worth.
I’m from a large family and, as these things sometimes go, death was a normal part of my life since I was a small child- specifically the death of a little sister, grandparents, uncles, aunts, young friends, my young father. Not only did I have a close personal relationship with heartbreak but I saw clearly how it affected those dearest to me. February, written from that place of grief, chilled me. Losing a spouse is a particular anguish that I hope to avoid for many, many years but this book cracks open the sternum and exposes the terrifying reality of a heart, and a woman, in shreds.
From where my jaw dropped so much, I had to get facial reconstructive surgery, which was costly. Kidding. I guess the answer is it has helped me grow as a writer. We’re an odd pairing, me and Come, Thou Tortoise. I write about relationship pessimism and fatal flaws and half my characters die, and my approach to writing has been to emotionally engage a reader with crushing scenes and universal conflicts and constant tragedy. Whereas this book is more fun than a circus. But you mix the right things sometimes – coffee and chocolate, scotch and ice, the right book and the right reader – and the end result is rejuvenating. I didn’t know you could have a blast and still be human and thematic and resonate with readers. Grant’s was the first book to considerably move me and make me laugh all in one go. It challenged me as a reader to let my guard down and step into this odd, sensuous world she’d crafted. By the third page I was amazed at the utter originality of prose, character, and craft, and how there’s this whole new and radical way of using language and engaging a reader that no one had shown me before. I didn’t know sheer pleasure-to-read-ed-ness could hold my interest as much as the weighty sorrow of, say, David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children. So it has broadened my horizons as a reader too. To be honest, the backcover description of Come, Thou Tortoise scared me away, initially. Luckily she co-launched with Lisa Moore, so, I was forced to hear a passage from the book. And my jaw dropped, and I looked around the room like, is everybody else hearing woman’s way with words? There’s wordsmithery: where Author X arrange words very well, and there’s wordGoddery: where Jessica takes a divine command over words. It was fun to see, from a writing standpoint.
I guess the short answer here is: I can finally say I have a favourite novel when people ask. I was 31 before I had an answer to that question. A long wait. Tortoisian. And pound for pound, beneath its radiant, humorous surface, there’s as much “profound humanity” in this story as there is in any other I’ve read. There’s something to be said for how humour can crack your reader’s shell, and let the humanity of a story sink so much further in. I gave it a shot last year, in a short story I wrote and submitted to an award, and it won me the thousand dollars I needed to fix my chimney. Thanks for keeping a roof over my head, Audrey/Jessica.