We’re half way through NL Reads and it’s obvious that all the contenders have strong arguments for their novels. Although some panelists didn’t really like this question (Hynes almost started throwing things), it had to be asked. A novel that we all should read just can’t be about one town, one person, one couple. It has to have connections to something larger like the cultural landscape, whether it’s the stereotype we all know and maybe love or mostly hate, or something that shows a very different side of our cultural story. Even a novel that is subversive has a connection to that which it subverts. In other words, we can’t begin to boast about a book all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should read without talking about culture–past, present and future.
Discuss how your novel fits in the culture/history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s impossible to ignore the role that the city of St. John’s plays in This All Happened as a character in the book. Save for the odd excursion out of town, almost every day in the book’s year-long chronology is punctuated in some way by a St. John’s landmark or location that, if not familiar to you before the reading will be intimately so afterward.
The book is like a time capsule for Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city. A time capsule filled with little nostalgia bombs that will set off with almost every turn of the page. That said, I think readers familiar with the city will be struck by how much seems to have gone unchanged in the ten plus years since the book was written.
While the prose is in a style that is all his own, Winter still manages to capture the townieness of the St. John’s vernacular. And the heart of the city, the beloved downtown of St. John’s, sings.
Do I lose points for admitting this is the question that interests me least? Making claims for a book’s representation of Newfoundland and Labrador reflects the bias of the reader more than anything else. If it rings true to one Newfoundlander, you can be sure it rings false to another. I will say that The Wreckage is a great story about Newfoundland, featuring fascinating Newfoundland characters. Its larger themes – displacement, modernization, emigration – reflect an important part of the Newfoundland experience in the 20th century. But framing it as a “Newfoundland” book is much too limiting.
JOEL THOMAS HYNES
How the Christ should I know where or how it fits in? I just read it a few times and liked it because it struck a chord in me somewhere. It’s not some contrived bleeding hearts lament to the outports and it’s not some mincing urban jizz-fest with no goddamn heartbeat. It sits on a different shelf. I don’t know how or why it’s hung around as long as it has. I can just repeat that it’s a good easy read. I guess I could speculate that Hold Fast’s longevity can be attributed to its relevance to our oral storytelling tradition, how because the narrative voice comes off so natural that you feel like the story is happening to someone you know, some young buck who’s out there right now on the road in the middle of winter trying to make his way back to a home and a way of life that no longer exists, how the raging innocence of one dislocated (“fictional”) lad from the bay speaks more truly to the collective naiveté of the majority of NLers who refuse to accept that what we once were is a myth, that what might have been is long lost to us and on us and that where we’re headed is a far cry from rubber boots and chocolate bars. I could go on like that but I don’t want to get myself in a spin tonight because I tend to equate the word culture with another C word and then I have to battle the urge to smash things. Hold Fast though, some book.
This book is important to the cultural history of our province. It comes from a female writer who is at the centre of a literary community that is flourishing. I wish I could draw a circle on this page because an illustration would serve much better than my feeble attempt to describe it!
When it comes to female fiction writers in Newfoundland literature, probably the earliest that most people remember is Margaret Duley (though there were a few more before and during her time). Now thankfully, almost every student in the province knows the work of Bernice Morgan and her monumental achievement with Random Passage and Waiting for Time.
Lisa Moore through her books – Open, Alligator and now February – has not only entered that circle but her effect will ripple out for years to come. Just as Duley did for Brown, Brown did for Morgan, Porter, and Clark. From there, that group inspired Moore, Winter, McGrath and others and they in turn encouraged and/or inspired Grant, Tilley, Butler Hallett, Story and happily many, many more. Moore is positioned in just about the middle wave of this ever expanding sphere and her own circle of inspiration continues to spawn great new works from its writers.
This is not a novel that fits in with the quaint image of Newfoundlanders as hardy cod-catching souls. It is instead a lively portrayal of the modern-day St. John’s I know: a place populated with vibrant, intelligent people with their heads in the clouds and their hearts on their sleeves. The amazing research going on at MUN is alluded to in the book, for example, and the sheer volume of unique people who populate St. John’s. The novel is vaguely set here, with “Seagull Hill” as Signal Hill and “Wednesday Pond” as Mundy Pond.
In terms of artistic culture, it certainly sits on the tail end of the evolution of Newfoundland fiction. Jessica Grant was the last writer to join the legendary “Burning Rock Fiction Collective” whose writers, like Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, Ramona Dearing, and Libby Creelman, have certainly played a huge role in grabbing the national spotlight on Canadian writers and pointing it at the fresh, sensuous, evocative diction Newfoundland fiction has become known for. Jessica, as its newest member, and the latest sensation out of the province, has played a role in helping our literature evolve and diversify. I love the dark fiction we’re known for: Kennneth J. Harvey, Joel Thomas Hynes, Percy Janes. But I love the lightness in the new stuff too: Jessica Grant, Pasha Malla, Libby Creelman’s The Darren Effect.
Also: we’re a province known for its sense of humour, and it’s been said that trait developed to help us deal with our harsh realities and way of life. Levity: making light of tragedy (her first book’s title by the way) is a common provincial trait, and is exactly what this novel is: funny in the face of underlying tragedy and the hardships of life. It’s due time we sink our senses of humours into books, and welcome new voices to the table alongside the likes of Ed Riche and Larry Mathews.