Monday, June 29, 2009


Gardening in Cape Breton is like chasing a prized butterfly in a wind storm---it ain't easy. You have frost until the middle of June; rains so heavy they can dent the top of your car; winds that cause your trees to grow sideways. We live close to the North Atlantic ocean and receive the salt spray from a nor'easter---does wonders for the plants.

I bought two slender, beautiful, evergreen trees last year around this time that are quite dead right now. Their demise is a mystery. I bought them at half price, tried to see if i could return them since there was a guarantee attached, and was told the discount voided the warranty. It's the way the world turns.

My wife is distraught. The deceased trees are nestled within a vital region of our much laboured, quite pretty garden. These fir trees are now tinted with a rather handsome brownish colour, but this is not the hue they ought to be. So this presents a problem. Our overstretched garden budget prevents us from replacing these trees, so I suggested to my wife that maybe it would be a good idea to spray paint them---green, of course. My unusual resolution to this conundrum didn't faze her a bit since she knows me well, but she stated that if I decided to do such a thing she would make sure she was out of town for a few days until the deed was done. She fears embarrassment and keeps her distance at such times. I haven't decided on the colour green as of yet.

But this does remind me of a non-fiction book I once read called THE GOLDEN SPRUCE by John Vaillant. It is a true story of a century old giant golden spruce, which is a rarity, growing on one of the islands off the west coast of British Columbia. The natives there always considered this tree to be sacred, and it was always left untouched by the logging companies, that is until an unbalanced, hate-filled logger cut it down one weekend and left it to rot. Fascinating story, well told, a good book.

But our trees are not golden, and I really don't think I could pass them off as a new brownish variety of fir tree---very rare. No.

I'm without a book to read(oh, the horrors), so went rooting around my wife's library looking for something other than Atwood. I found LATE NIGHT ON AIR by Elizabeth Hay. It's a novel about a radio station in Yellowknife---way up north. I checked the book and found it is a first edition Trade paperback and signed! How about that? It also won the Giller Prize, and other prizes, I think. I vaguely remember hearing about it a few years ago and wondered if my wife liked it. She said that she didn't like it at all, and actually didn't finish reading it, which is highly unusual for her. I was intrigued. She also said that she picked it up at Chapters in Halifax, and that it was already signed by the author. I decided to read it.

I could understand why my wife did not finish this novel. Did you ever meet a person who loves to talk, and actually never shuts up? Did you ever meet someone who goes on and on mixing the past with the present with great ease, but never getting to the point? That's this novel. I found I cared very little for any of the characters---my wife's sentiment too. There's absolutely no curse words in this novel! None! My wife didn't think that that was a viable criticism. I do---not real. I was anxious to read about the canoe trip near the end of the novel thinking that this was going to pull everything together in a clever, exciting manner, but it read like a travelogue where the "disaster" was actually more of a mishap. I think this book is a disaster. Also I didn't get the feel of being in the North; there was no atmosphere to that end.

Some noticeable points: Quite a contrived ending; unbelievable, really.
One character said when on the canoe trip that this trip is going to change her life. Unbelievable, you never know what experiences will change your life until many years later.
Notice this: " After she left her desk, he went over and picked up the pen and held it to his nose, pathetic man that he was, trying to smell her hair". The phrase "pathetic man that he was" is written by the author E. Hay, not the narrator. In other words, the narrator tells the story and should be without any bias towards any character, so this phrase was obviously the author's. This is a faux pas seldom done by good writers.

The Giller jury said that this novel was "dazzling, flawlessly-crafted, masterfully told". So there you are, what do I know. My wife was right---she usually is.

Next: Taking a slice off of Pi

1 comment:

  1. This entry has really made me think about my lack of criticism as a reader. As a science oriented person I have learned to critically analyze research articles and have no problem with it! The problem is since I have never taken an English Literature course I am lost when it comes to critically reading books! I NEVER would have picked up on your “noticeable points”, yet once pointed out they seem so obvious! I really enjoy reading and almost always find something to enjoy about a book but I would really like to know if what I am reading is really good writing or just mediocre. Could you give me any pointers on how to become more of a critical reader? Or am I doomed to always trusting the bestseller list and Heather’s picks?

    PS: Formerly Dwyer :)