Before we move on to the last question, I wanted to reiterate how this is all going to go down. Shortly, I will post a vlog where I summarize what’s been going on this past week in the fridge; I’ll summarize some of the main arguments, read some of my favorite answers, and talk about the best snack to have while reading these fantastic books. After that the panelists and I will score the arguments and the books, and the book with the most points wins the title of the book all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should read. Having read them all I know it’s going to be a tough decision. No matter who gets the title, you should read them all too, and make your own decision. Book Fridge will be giving away all five to one lucky follower at the end of the contest. Thanks in advance to Pedlar, Random House, Breakwater, and Anansi for donating the books.
Don’t forget that NL Reads is inspired by CBC’s Canada Reads. The focus is regional this year and Lisa Moore’s February is representing the Atlantic Provinces.
For the last question panelists had to ponder why the author wrote the book. They had to think about the value of it, the message, the reasons behind it. As you can see it was not an easy question to answer.
Dave Sullivan on West Moon: It is difficult to say why Al wished to write this book. It may have been a situation where the book was begging to be written and Al had no choice but to oblige. In the end Al has penned, in my opinion, the greatest piece of Newfoundland theatre there is. Nothing compares to it. Nothing comes close.
Michelle Butler Hallett on Straight Razor Days: Why did Hynes write this? Lord, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him that. Why does any artist go through all the joy and agony of trying to create something meaningful, something that resonates with others but also connects back with the artist himself? I would guess choice played little to no role here. Stories charm, compel, infect, and possess us –the whole Ancient Mariner grabbing the random Wedding-Guest thing:
He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth hee.
‘Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
He holds him with his glittering eye –
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
My own stories scream out of me – no choice here, no moment of deciding Ahem, I Shall Write This Book Because I Have This Reason. The whole process for me is very like sex, pregnancy, labour and birth – pleasure and sickness and heartache and blood and fear and pain and joy. I don’t think I’m alone, feeling this way. I expect male artists understand the whole pregnancy metaphor, and understand it easily. While I highly doubt Hynes has ever been knocked up, he has waited out the weird months of gestation, witnessed the violence of labour, and welcomed a new life into this world. Look to the imagery surrounding ‘the boy’ throughout Straight Razor Days; the narrator is a father, loving and worrying about his young son. The boy is very much a fulcrum for his father, a delicate and sharp point of balance:
The boy is sound asleep and Lime Street
is roaring, threatening something old in me. (‘Mousey’)
We mosey about the wharf
where the water is black tar
and grave and cruel.
I hook my finger through his little belt loop
while he drops rocks over the side.
If he were to fall in,
without hesitation, I’d follow.
I would not let him go off
to that other place
alone. (‘One Night in Scilly Cove’)
Yet, no matter how many people surround the narrator, he knows a desperate loneliness. By the time we get to the hag-ridden ‘Safe Place’, it no longer matters how much of that loneliness may be self-inflicted. The reader’s judgement of the narrator no longer matters, either. Here, echoing Matthew 18:3 and the exhortation, the need to ‘become as little children’, the man recognizes his need and desire to be mothered, and, beneath his fear, his knowing reduction back to being a boy:
I sobbed and snotted as loud as I could until
I was certain, until I knew
that there was no room out there beyond
the peeling door,
that the house was gone,
no walls, no ceiling above,
only the tar-black Newfoundland night
and no God above watching over,
nothing but blood from both ends
and the tip of a dead mouse’s tail in my throat.
And in the final piece, ‘Way Off Broadway’, the narrator’s need to tell these stories, to show you his marks, is tied to that love and worry, even as he retreats, alone, his insistence he doesn’t miss anyone darkly comic and moving, his final act funny, humble and brave: he whispers ‘something foolish in the horrible dark’.
The most valuable message I take from this book is a question, and the right and responsibility to ask that question, one that’s almost a dare. The darkness – ‘the tar-black Newfoundland night’ – imposed or self-inflicted, is horrible. So. Exposed, do you run, or do you stand and fight – even if your fight is a whisper?
I take this, too: the whisper will be heard.
Roger Maunder on Inside: I’ve been told that Kenneth J Harvey wrote this book in two weeks. That it was a story that unfolded as he wrote it, jumping onto the page. I believe that when he started to write this that the stories in the news were fresh and it was a great storyline to dig into.
Myrden will really never escape this culture that he was born into. It doesn’t matter how much money he has. It’s part of who he is. He knows that, deep down. In the end he knows where he will end up and does the right thing (some may argue) and it’s this that puts him back to where he thinks he belongs. Money doesn’t bring happiness. It doesn’t buy back time.
Harvey wants you to answer many unanswered questions. This is something I really enjoyed while reading this book. He gives you subtle hints but you must attempt to put it all together. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong. Just like the justice system.
Angela Antle on Annabel: Kathleen has tackled the tough subject of gender and identity with such grace. She has crafted a story that is full of subtle beauty. Annabel is devoid of clichés and full of flawed characters who are easy to love and identify with. I believe the most important message here is to embrace and respect diversity.
Jerry Stamp on Galore: I can only guess as to why Michael Crummey decided to write this book. If I had to say I would suppose he wanted to take the wealth of stories we all grow up hearing about and put them together in some way. Whether those were the stories of the hardships faced by the myriad fishing villages around the island or the supernatural and superstitious occurrences that grandmothers tell their grandchildren about. The political intrigue that we often forget comes with a growing town and the power hungry people in it. I guess we don’t romanticize our history as much as we could or should and Crummey set about to show us how full of wild imaginative story our small fishing villages were. Maybe we forgot how magical those places were and he wanted to remind us our history is not just a few fellas in St. John’s setting rules for the rest of us.