In university, no one I knew wanted to take the required CanLit course. They expected the Canadian shield as backdrop, bleak, with forest as far as the eye could see, traversed by the stoic hero - in short tales of backbreaking labour, depression and sorrow weighted by lavish metaphor and decorative language. All in all staunchly Canadian, through and through.
Although most of the canon still floats my boat (As For Me & My House will always remain one of my favorite books), I have to agree with Steven Beattie's new article in Canadian Notes & Queries in that what is celebrated as quintessentially Canadian and thus prize-worthy has become incredibly stale and limiting today.
He argues that of the five 2008 Giller short-listed books, only two, Rawi Hage's Cochroach and Mary Swan's The Boys In The Trees, break away from formula to offer something original & apart, something uneasy, something that spins a bit off the axis of the traditional Novel, capital N.
Thus, I propose an investigation into the Condition of the Canadian Novel Today (And Into the Future) by way of the Amazon First Novel Award. The short list was announced last week. It is:
1) Stunt by Claudia Dey
2) Chase and Havenby Mike Blouin.
3) Red Dog, Red Dogby Patrick Lane
4) Boys In The Treesby Mary Swan
5) Reading by Lightningby Joan Thomas
6) The Toss of a Lemonby Padma Viswanathan
The winner will be announced in September. So! My summer project will be to read each of these books (and since I've only read Stunt out of the six, there is much reading to be done) and see whether Canadian novelists new to the literary scene are pandering to the canon or setting out in new and exciting directions.
This won't be a foolproof test but even if I learn nothing, I'll still get bragging rights for reading something literary during the thriller and chick lit season.
And away I go . . .