Thursday, September 07, 2006

Canada & The Literature of Landscape

If you're a Canadian, it's almost certain you've committed yourself to a long-distance relationship at some point in your life. You can't be a Canadian and escape this fate, because you can't be a Canadian and escape the fact of its enormous distances. In my Winnipeg high school, I had a friend who fell hard for a girl in Thompson. Two cities in the same province, connected by a single, uninterrupted highway – pretty straightforward, right? Now go to Google Maps and take a look at what they encountered whenever they got itchy for a little face-time.

I once fiddled with a short story about a guy from Toronto in love with a girl from Calgary. They squeeze sugar from the phone for a couple of months, until he can't take it anymore. He quits his job and climbs into the car, but not before one final phone call to his sweetheart. He begs her to put on exactly the same outfit she was wearing the last time they were together; he'll do likewise, in an effort to meet at the common ground of shared memory.

So he drives through the Canadian Shield, and the Prairie Grasslands, and finally into the Alberta Foothills, thinking all the time of this woman, her complexities, her beauty, her foibles, the conversations that connected and the ones that didn't. When he finally arrives in Calagary, she opens the apartment door, dressed in the agreed-upon outfit. But she's had a hair-cut, and that's change enough to puncture his fantasy life and end the relationship.

Distance accounts for just about everything in Canada. And that is the chief reason why I can't wait to tuck into Noah Richler's This Is My Country, What's Yours? A Literary Atlas Of Canada. I caught precious few snippets of the CBC radio series that laid the groundwork for the book (and until I can claim it in my taxes, I can't quite justify the $$ for the CDs, available here (scroll down to A Literary Atlas Of Canada ($100 for all 10 shows))), but what I heard was immediately engaging, entirely entertaining and filled with worthy insights. There hasn't been an honest attempt at coming to terms with the scattershot CanLit scene, or The National Consciousness(es), since the tweed-and-patchouli days of Frye & Atwood. Those days are long gone, and if the early reviews are correct this effort by fils Richler is more than a rip-off "update". It has legs and intelligence, and it couldn't come at a better time.


DarkoV said...

Thank God for his fertile loins! Mordecai, ye may be gone, but your progeny will still invigorate and entertain us.

I'll be waiting for your review, sir, and then it'll be off to my ephemeral Shopping Cart.

Gideon Strauss said...

So? Is Richler right? IS the novel necessarily (small-l) liberal?

Whisky Prajer said...

gs - Tom Wolfe is the living and noisy exception to that "rule", but I do wonder if Richler's point isn't the norm for Canadian novels. I'll look at my bookshelf and get back to you.