Dear Gabriel English,
You don’t know me, but I’m usually quite obsessive about reading things in the proper order, so I’m surprised that I read This All Happened a couple of years ago, having somehow missed the fact that you are also at the heart of this collection of short stories, which was published back in 1999.
So when I met you when you were all-about-Lydia. Not necessarily in a happy way. But you were preoccupied by her presence and her absence.
So throughout One Last Good Look, through Femke and Doris, I knew not to take them seriously and simply wait for Lydia to arrive on the scene.
This kind of understanding (or mis-understanding) can definitely colour one’s experience of a work, and I was probably much more attentive to talk of your love life and your way of looking at the world (which seemed to become much more overtly text-focussed in This All Happened) in this collection than I might have been otherwise.
I would have read that fictional memoir differently, if I’d been with you on the moose hunt and when Bruce died (among other things, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t met you at all yet).
If my first impression of you had been rooted in the Robert Hass epigraph (“All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking.”), I think my idea of you would have taken a different shape, sadder maybe.
Now all I can do is try to imagine how a reader might think of you if they met you in a single story, before This All Happened.
Take “Deep in My Brother”.
Straight away, they would know that landscape is important. Only a few lines in, there is a description laid out for the reader:
“It’s dark, there are flashes of snow in the headlights. At the crest of a hill above the Tourist Lodge, overlooking Corner Brook, dark and twinkling in linked units descending slopes to a smoking pulp mill glowing with an inner grey light.”
And they mightn’t be surprised by the black-white-and-grey view of the world therein, nor by the following passage, not if they’d read that paradoxical epigraph:
“I’m coming to realize there are no new thoughts. There are thoughts that are in minority, thoughts that rule. These thoughts gently replace each other, snow melting and falling again.”
They would see how you handle dialogue, in a way which is unfamiliar but accessible.
“You sure are into remembering.
Just if you remember what I remember.
What I remember is getting in shit, Gabe. It’s not in my best interest to remember.
But you remember things all the same.
That’s not the same. I’m remembering because I’m reminded. You just remember for the sake of remembering.”
They would understand that this corner of the land, overlooking Corner Brook, Newfoundland, creates a tension which is not that different from the traditional ruralVSurban Canlit dichotomy and, yet, for all that, it is something unique and fresh.
“That’s the big difference between cities and the world, June [Junior]. You have to make your own happenings in the wild. You have to act if you want one moment to stand out from another.”
They would see that there are some poetic bits which add power to your prose, though they are infrequent, and sometimes as unsettling as they are beautiful.
“My mother will not speak of the scar on her left shoulder blade. I have seen it as we peeled logs for the cabin. Down to her bra in the heat, bent over the logs on the sawhorses. The scapula flexing the scar. The scar is six inches long, thick as a finger. As if her shoulder blade or her bones were placed inside her skin that way, and zippered up.”
Or, the “ground has a wink of crushed beer bottles”.
They would see that the history of characters quietly soaks the stories, that time and what it contained, is not always clearly explained, simply is (and was).
“She has, in the past, looked in the mirror and been shocked.”
There are a lot of things about you that I wish I’d learned from One Last Good Look, before I’d read This All Happened but I enjoyed these stories about you nonetheless.
I’m just sorry that we weren’t properly introduced, that I didn’t take One Last Good Look before This All Happened.
Day 42 of 45: It would have been possible to read only short stories and novellas for this project; if I were to do it all over again, I might decide to do just that.
What short stuff have you been reading lately? Do you have a favourite Michael Winter work? Have you read Kathleen Winter’s Annabel?