Can New Canadian Writers Please Not Be So Damn Canadian?

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 . . .


saleema said...

I'm tempted to join you in this! (Though I already have a headstart, and some of the books as well.)

But I really want to read them all...

August said...

I grew up in the Shield, and there's surprisingly little literature about the area. Most of what you describe (which I myself abhor) is actually about the Prairies, or the far North of the territories (Through Black Spruce misses the shield by probably five hundred kilometers), or Newfoundland--or even worse, that (actually quite populated and urbanized) patch of rock between Sudbury and Toronto that people from Southern Ontario think of as 'the North' or 'the Shield', which is in fact just the Northern bits of Southern Ontario. (Sorry, pet peeve of the Northern soul.)

Good luck with the project, though. I'll be following with interest, as Stunt is also the only one I've read.

Anonymous said...

Nice project - some good reads there. Good luck! (think the best I can claim is a spin - but the next will be a true departure)

M. Blouin

avisannschild said...

It's funny you should mention As for Me and My House as one of your favourite books because I just read another post about Canadian books (or rather books set in Canada) and that blogger hated that book! Her post is here.

B.Kienapple said...

Hi All - who knew CanLit was still topical?? :) I'm trying to think of books actually set on the Shield (thank you August for correcting me here, you are very right). Apparently, though, most of Ontario is Shield. I'm trying to think of actual Shield-set novels - Alias Grace, perhaps? Roughing It in the Bush (Susanna Moodie)?? Maybe this deserves a new post.
As For Me and My House is dark, depressing and isn't plot-driven so I'd say you'd really have to like atmospheric books about the Prairies to love it. But I do! I do!!!

August said...

Though mostly set in Toronto, my hometown of Dryden, Ontario (1/2 way between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg) shows up in The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper. He gets the geography a bit wrong, though. It takes 18hrs to drive there from Sudbury, and he places it a half day's drive from cottage country (sorry, nope).

Claire Cameron's novel The Line Painter takes place in Hearst, which is a Sheild town, I believe.

B.Kienapple said...

Hello Mike, thanks for stopping by. As for 'spin', I expect good things from any Coach House book!


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