Thursday, April 18, 2013

Into the wilderness of Canadian journey fiction

Book: Sointula
Author: Bill Gaston
Published: 2004 (Raincoast Books)
Pages: 452

So this upper-middle-Canadian society lady wants to reconnect with the son who ran away when she told him his dad was her long-lost lover. When the lover dies, she tells her husband that she’s going to “a friend”’s funeral, sticks a cigar tube of his ashes into her shorts, and doesn’t take those shorts off for like weeks at a time as she immerses herself in the Canadian shoreline wilderness on a very meandering, waterlogged journey to where she’s heard her son is doing some whale watching.

Also drug dealing. He’s doing that too, waiting to play his own minor but lucrative role in a huge drug trade because apparently British Columbia weed is like the shit. (Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction and I’m not doing that fact-finding for it.)  But he really is into whales at the same time, and he’s struggling to see which bit of him will surface once the tides and mosquitoes and suspicious SUVs pass in the night.

On her way to her son’s island, the lady meets a British writer who is roughing it for the first time to get a book out of an idea that was really just an excuse to escape his own messy divorce.

The lady turns increasingly feral and detached from her current life while falling deeper in touch with the old. Scrounging for food and shelter and the occasional kayak hardens her senses while muddying her feelings. It just seems to make the writer guy horny, and delirious because he needs his gallbladder taken out. They don’t seem to be on the same plane of understanding, much less existence, and that creates friction both interesting and frustrating, because of course they end up sleeping together, although not until she decides to, although there’s not a clear reason why she decides to, although I think it has something to do with need that slowly wakes up in her after they land on civilization for a brief interlude.

Make sure you read this in the most humanly constructed comfort possible, because it’s detailed in how much even human-beaten nature fights back. You don’t need a hanky because it’s not melodramatic, but it is deeply emotional and lonely. And wet. And it’s a good example of how a quiet end can work if you’ve got enough story and character exhaustion to back it up.

I liked it. It was a balanced epic journey, where matching the emotional heft of what she wanted from taking the long way to her son was often beaten back by sheer practicality but her core reason stayed intact and didn’t waste any theatrics in revealing itself when the time came.
It’s back to the library for this one.     

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