Canada's Everyday Horror, Jamming, 20/12/2017

I’ll say this. I’ll get it out of the way. I never realized how good Alice Munro was until after she won the Nobel Prize.

But my response wasn’t all that much awe or respect. It was, “You know what? Fuck it. Dear Life is on sale for only $12 and I’ll get myself a proper physical copy.”

Because I could never get past the hype of Alice Munro – The Great Canadian Short Story Writer. Weirdly, I missed her work when I was in secondary school. Probably just by chance. When you grow up in Newfoundland, the curriculum has a schizophrenic relationship with Canadian literature.

A lot of Newfoundlanders don’t even consider themselves Canadian. Since each province’s government feels something of an obligation to include literature from its own territory, we chop a lot of the mainstream Canadian authors in favour of local material.

There are few authors in Canada better suited to a whimsical, yet
ever so slightly deranged, postage stamp. I wonder how many
people in the last year or so thought she wrote The Handmaid's
So instead of the middle-years collections of Alice Munro, I got The Lure of the Labrador Wild. A book written so badly that it made desolation and death seem boring.

You know what you can do instead of reading that, Newfoundland secondary education curriculum designers? Cut it in favour of some Inuit poets and Voss by Patrick White. I know he’s Australian, but you’ll never read a trippier, freakier, more existentially terrifying book about dying lost in an unforgiving wilderness.

Where was I? Alice Munro. No, I think I was exposed to so much Canadian literature that felt like artistic dead ends to me. Austere tomes about petty, small lives on the Canadian Prairies. That damn Hockey Sweater.

I think I only hated it at the time – elementary school – because the teachers expected us all to know about hockey, and none of them explained that the kid got the Leafs sweater because the head of the retail company was a racist Anglo. It was all, “Oh! Wasn’t he so embarrassed! The Toronto Maple Leafs!”

I’m kind of glad I avoided Alice Munro until I was almost 30. I think I can appreciate the unpretentious craftsmanship. A couple of months ago, I found The Love of a Good Woman at a garage sale when I was walking around The Esplanade with my 10 year old niece.

Stories of ordinary lives with violent, creepy secrets. People, just interesting enough on their own to follow for 30-70 pages. Then you discover some terrible incident in their pasts that flip all that ordinariness into haunted space.

A fat old man drowns in a small town’s river. A young-ish husband leaves his wife and dies mysteriously in Indonesia. A garish old woman’s first husband is conveniently killed in a house fire. Courtenay, British Columbia turns from a quaint hub of hippies, Whole Food shoppers, and wrinkled old white people into a screaming graveyard.

You never learn about Canadian literature as everyday terror. Maybe you should.

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