Stories


Adamson, G. 2007
The Outlander. House of Anansi Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 388 pages.
Set mostly in southern Alberta in 1903. Tells the tale of Mary Boulton, 19 years old and fleeing from her two brothers-in-law after shooting and killing her husband, an act of despair after he'd been callous about the death of their child. Originally from the more genteel east (Ontario perhaps), she has to learn to survive in the harsh western landscape, especially the mountains. She winds up in the town of Frank, in southwest Alberta. Adamson distances the narrative from her characters; people are called by their principal characteristics, rather than by name. Mary is "the Widow" for most of the tale and another major character, William Moreland, is referred to as "the Ridgerunner". He's basically a mountain man, can't stand people or civilization, but he's a kind man and gives Mary her own space. The brothers-in- law, the trackers, never seem like real people, but are presented more as scary archetypes. But other characters, such as the miners and other inhabitants of the community and trading post at Frank are well-drawn. The brutality of some men is balanced off against the kindness of at least three men that Mary encounters. Slow and meandering narrative but enjoyable. (04/Mar/2012).

Bowen, G. 1990
Deadly Appearances. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 267 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 1.
AEU BARD PS 8552 O927 D278 The first tale in the series. Andy Boychuk, the politician Joanne Kilbourn works for, dies apparently from poisoning at a political rally. As things go on, it becomes clear that he must have been killed by a member of the inner political group. But who and why? Then Jo gets sick and realizes that she has been poisoned too. All is unravelled eventually, as the mystery in Regina is resolved. (18/Aug/1998).

Bowen, G. 1991
Murder at the Mendel. Re-issued 2000. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 213 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 2.
Sally Love is a successful and talented artist whose personal life is a mess. Her new exhibit at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon is generating controversy. So when her former business associate, Clea Poole, a deranged and unstable woman, is found dead at the gallery, suspicion natural falls on Sally. As her friend, Joanne Kilbourn, currently living in Saskatoon for a year, lends her support, not believing that Sally could be capable of murder. Besides, Sally's mother, Nina, had almost been a second mother to her, after her father died and her mother slid into alcoholism. So Jo feels she owes the Love family a debt. Sally's young daughter, Taylor, is showing signs of being a talented artist as well, and so Sally is determined to take Taylor away from her estranged husband, Stuart, and give her the freedom to develop artistically. Then history repeats as Sally is also killed at the Mendel, at a celebratory Valentine's Day dinner. She dies from anaphylaxis brought on by almonds sprinkled on her food, evidence that the killer knew of her food allergies. Deep waters, these. Jo is forced to look at old loyalties and friendships in a new way to discover the real culprit. Incidentally, I bought this book at the Mendel Gallery during a recent visit to Saskatoon - it seemed appropriate! (05/Apr/2008).

Bowen, G. 1992
The Wandering Soul Murders. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 207 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 3.
Read while I was in Regina, where the story is set. Again, Professor Joanne Kilbourn is the central character. The story concerns the apparent suicide death of Christy, a troubled woman who had been her son's, Peter's, girlfriend. As she investigates, Jo finds out some very disturbing things about Christy's background. (17/Aug/1998).

Bowen, G. 1994
A Colder Kind of Death. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 217 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 4.
AEU HSS PS 8553 O8995 C6 Joanne Kilbourn is faced with the uncomfortable prospect of reliving or reinvestigating the murder of her own husband six years earlier when the man accused of his murder is himself killed in an apparent drive-by shooting at the jail. Gradually some unpleasant connections between that past and the present are made and it become clear that old friends may have been involved in the earlier crime. Nicely evokes the prairie atmosphere of Regina, especially the winters. (03/May/1998).

Bowen, G. 1996
A Killing Spring. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 266 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 5.
AEU HSS PS 8553 O8995 K55 Set in Regina, a mystery partly solved by Professor Joanne Kilbourn, a member of the PolySci Department. When the head of the Journalism Department is found dead in suspicious circumstances, it's up to Joanne to comfort the widow and try and disentangle an ugly plot in which some of her own students seem to be involved. Things aren't helped when one of her problem students, who has complained that another student is harassing her, disappears and is later found dead too. Jo is a likeable character and the locale and setting are right. (04/Jan/1998).

Bowen, G. 1998
Verdict in Blood. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 202 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 6.
Judge Justine Blackwell has been behaving very oddly in the past year or so. Always known for harsh and uncompromising verdicts and sentences and regarded as pitiless, she has suddenly become involved in various organizations and charities dealing with criminal rehabilitation. Her three adult daughters are convinced this is a sign of a failing mind and the onset of dementia. So when Justine is found beaten to death in Wascana Park. the police naturally think that one of the criminals she's been helping is perhaps not so rehabilitated after all. Justine has a piece of paper in her pocket with Hilda McCourt's name and Jo's phone number as contact. Hilda, now 83 yeas old, is visiting Jo to attend a party held to honour Judge Blackwell's thirty years on the bench. Hilda had been asked by Justine to evaluate her mental state and see if she really is going senile. So Jo and Hilda are inevitably drawn into the investigation especially because it seems likely that Hilda may have been one of the last people to speak to Justine. Hilda is convinced that Justine was perfectly rational and is deeply suspicious of her daughters motives. It seems to be all about the money for them; they don't want it to be left away from the family. Meanwhile, Jo is worried about heavily-pregnant daughter Mieka in Saskatoon. And her current man friend, Alex Kequahtooway is worried about his nephew, Eli, who is deeply troubled following the death of his mother, Karen, in a recent car accident. These stories eventually intersect, proving once again that Regina is a small town! An enjoyable read as always. (14/Apr/2012).

Bowen, G. 2000
Burying Ariel. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 254 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 7.
AEU HSS PS 8553 O8995 B87 Professor Joanne Kilbourn is faced with the repercussions of the murder of a young colleague in the PolySci Department of the university in Regina. Things get ugly when a radical strident feminist clique use the death as an excuse for a campaign against the man they think is guilty. (26/Oct/2001).

Bowen, G. 2002
The Glass Coffin. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 337 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 8.
AEU HSS PS 8553 O8995 G53 Jo Kilbourn is preparing for Christmas in Regina and also preparing to help an old friend, Jill, with her wedding. Things don't go smoothly when Jo meets the fiancé, Evan MacLeish, and loathes him on sight, finding him cold and self-absorbed. Unfortunately, in the midst of the wedding celebrations, Evan is found dead. It looks as if the key to his murder may lie in the films he made, using his family to feed his cinematic creativity in an unpleasantly detached and voyeuristic manner. Evan's family members certainly stretch the meaning of "dysfunctional" and are too self- consciously theatrical to be believable. The resolution of the plot relies on coincidences that stretch credulity. The winter prairie scene is right, but, for me, the plot is too contrived. (13/Mar/2004).

Bowen, G. 2004
The Last Good Day. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 335 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 9.
AEU HSS PS 8553 O8995 L38 The scene shifts from Regina to cottage country in the Qu'Appelle Valley for the next episode in this mystery series. Joanne Kilbourn has been lent a cottage/summer home there by a friend of hers, Kevin Hynd, a lawyer. All the homes in this community, which is gated, belong to lawyers and their families from the firm of Falconer, Shreve, Altieri and Wainberg. The locality is so over-run with lawyers that it is called Lawyers' Bay. The partners in the firm all met years ago when they were students at university. They were so obviously destined for success that they were nicknamed the "Winners' Circle" by their fellow students and the name stuck. Twenty-five years later and they are still a close-knit group. So when one of them, Chris Altieri, is found dead in his MGB in the lake, an apparent suicide, it appears to crack the mystique and reveal the fact that perhaps all is not well at the firm. Jo gets dragged into the story incidentally, since she is on the fringes of the group at Lawyers' Bay, an outsider, and watches the group dynamics and senses the unhappiness and tensions, without knowing the cause. Then at Chris' funeral, one of her former students, Anne Millar, tells Jo that she is worried about an acquaintance, Clare Mackay, who was a junior associate lawyer at Falconer Shreve. Clare apparently left the firm abruptly several months before, but no-one seems to have seen or heard from her since. Anne finds this behaviour out of character and wonders if Jo knows anything about the firm that might help explain what is going on. Apart from a general sense of unease, Jo has no specific information that anything is wrong. She is hoping that the summer break might also give her time to reach some stability after her breakup with Alex Kequahtooway, a police officer. Instead, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the tensions of Lawyers' Bay. Less reliant on improbable coincidence than the previous book, this one is more successful. (15/Oct/2005).

Bowen, G. 2007
The Endless Knot. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 413 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 10.
AEU BARD PS 8553 O8995 E54 The novel, set in Regina, opens by describing Joanne Kilbourn's burgeoning relationship with Zack Shreve, a brilliant lawyer and paraplegic, who is disliked by many people because of his ruthless will to win in the courtroom. Zack is defending Samuel Parker, a wealthy man who is accused of attempting to kill Kathryn Morrissey, a muckraking journalist. Morrissey recently published a book, Too Much Hope, that described the messed-up lives of some adult children of rich and famous (in Canadian terms) people. Much of this information had been gleaned by interviews with these offspring, who were often emotionally fragile but trusted her. Her portrayal of them in the book was deemed cruel and a breach of journalistic ethics by many, including Joanne. One of Kathryn's subjects was Sam Parker's son Glen, currently transitioning into a female state as Glenda. Her parents, pillars of the fundamentalist right-ring Christian evangelical movement in Calgary, are devastated. Glenda's mother rejects her. But rather unexpectedly, Sam supports her and is furious with Kathryn. In a confrontation, Kathryn in shot and injured. The only witness is Jo's old family friend Howard Dowhaniuk, a former politician and drunk, whose own son, Charlie, was another of the people profiled by Kathryn. The story gets even more convoluted and entangled when new relationships between the characters are revealed. The central elements of the tale are the trial of Sam Parker and the deepening relationship between Jo and Zack that eventually blossoms into marriage. A good read as always. (16/Jan/2008).

Bowen, G. 2008
The Brutal Heart. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 250 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 11.
Jo Kilbourn and Zack Schreve are now married, moved to a new home not far from Wascana Lake in Regina, and settling into happy domesticity. Zack's law firm is representing prominent local politician Ginny Monaghan in a dispute with her ex-husband, Jason Brodnitz, over custody of her twin 14-year-old daughters. The timing is bad. It's right in the midst of an election campaign and Ginny's party, the Conservatives, are set to win, with her winning her seat handsomely and being poised to make a bid for leadership of the party. Rumours of Ginny's sex life are causing her election campaign to implode, and rumours of Jason's unsavoury business dealings are not helping. Meanwhile, Cristal Avilla, a high-priced call-girl, has been found dead and her client-list includes many of the great and the good in the law circles of Regina, including Zack Schreve. He assures Jo his encounters with Cristal happened before they met and married, but she is, unsurprisingly, angry and disgusted. These storylines intersect as Jo finds out more about Cristal and what caused her to turn to prostitution and gets far too close to the man who corrupted her and forced her into that life. Bowen again succeeds in making Regina sound liveable. A good read with a less improbable plot than some of the recent novels in this series. (13/Apr/2012).

Bowen, G. 2010
The Nesting Dolls. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 227 pages. Joanne Kilbourn mystery 12.
Jo and Zack Schreve are happy and looking forward to Xmas with their family. But their idyll is interrupted when one of Zack's business partners, Delia Wainwright, gets into difficulties. Delia's daughter, Isobel, is handed a baby by a young woman who then disappears into a winter snowstorm. The woman is found dead a few days later in a snow covered Regina parking lot. The problem is the dead woman's will makes it clear that the baby, Jacob, is to go to Delia and no-one can figure out why. In this murky situation, Zack acts as Delia's lawyer despite being laid low by flu. The answer to the mystery turns on a very improbable coincidence, sparked by the secrecy of the adoption laws. Another death later, the connections are revealed and Jacob's future looks bright with his new extended family. The best part of this novel is the prairie locale and the portrait of family life. The plot strains credulity but the book is a good read nevertheless. (08/May/2012).

Braithwaite, M. 1986
All The Way Home. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 220 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8503 R14 A83 Hugh Windmar, now in his 60s, is travelling home to Saskatchewan for the first time in forty years to attend a family reunion. Rather awkwardly written and filled with memories of the Depression and prairie angst. (16/Jun/1987).

Butala, S. 1984
Country of the Heart. Fifth House, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada 232 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8552 U87 C85 This story is laden with clichés. A young girl returns from the big city to a farm in rural Saskatchewan. On finding out that she's pregnant, she tries to commit suicide. (06/Aug/1985).

Butala, S. 1992
The Fourth Archangel, pp. Harper Perennial. New York, USA 272 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8552 U87 F782 Set in the near future, perhaps the next decade, in a small town in southern Saskatchewan. The town is dying, mainly because farming is no longer profitable - all the farmers are heavily in debt to the banks - and because the area is afflicted with drought so the farmers have no hope of a good crop and getting out of debt. At first, this looks like a "blame the banks" story, and there is an element of that, but Butala feels the farmers have brought this on themselves by greed and a technological attitude towards the land. The tale is told mainly through the eyes of two women, Amy Sparrow, an artist and potter, and Jessie Sheridan, fresh from the city, newly-married to one of the local farmers, Val. Both, in different ways, want the community and village to survive, but neither really has a good way of ensuring that this will happen. Still, they try. There is a subplot here about an informal club of widows, who wield a good deal of power behind the scenes. Many of these women have known each other all their lives and these links sustain them and their families. (31/Dec/1997).

Butala, S. 1994
The Gates of the Sun. Originally published in 1986. HarperCollins, New York, USA 274 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8552 U87 G25 A sad story. Andrew Solomon is bought up on the prairie in the early years of the 20th century. He has a hard life as a cowboy and ranch hand before marrying and getting his own place. His sons are central to his plans but none want to take over the ranch and run it his way. So he ends up dying alone in the cabin where he and his mother first homesteaded. The sadness of his life is redeemed by the beauty of the prairie. (28/Dec/1986, 28/May/1998).

Collura, M. L. 1990
Winners. First published in 1984. Western Prairie Producer Books, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada 129 pages.
AEU BARD PZ 7 C7156 W776 Jordy Threebears is a problem teen, and has been in and out of foster homes for years. Now he is going back to the Reserve to live with his grandfather, Joe Speckledhawk, who has just been let out of prison. Together, they have to learn to adjust to new rules. But Jordy discovers that he wants to learn to ride and gets a wild mare from the prairie. After many adventures, he and his horse, Siksika, win an endurance race in the foothills. Life looks as if it might work out well for Jordy. A "young adult" story that was made into a movie. (10/Apr/1999).

Cullen, M. J. 1982
Goodnight, Sammy Wong. Westlands, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 175 pages.
AEU BARD PS 8553 U42 G65 Sammy Wong owns a Chinese grocery store in Lethbridge, Alberta, and this is a picture of immigrant life on the wrong side of the tracks and of the zany people and losers who live there. The portrait shows us a sad dull town with no activity or cohesion. (20/Jan/1984).

Erdrich, L. 1984
Love Medicine. Bantam Books, New York, USA 284 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3555 R285 L6 Narrated from the personal perspective of several members of various Chippewa families over about forty years. Set in North Dakota, it concerns mainly two intertwined Aboriginal families, the Kaspars and Lamartines, and their complex inter-relationships. A rich survey of Aboriginal life. Erdich's characters are always thinking that things are against them but with a great pride in themselves as well. Sometimes the characters exhibit highly self-destructive behaviour. (08/Jan/1988).

Erdrich, L. 1986
The Beet Queen. Bantam Books, New York, USA 303 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3555 R285 B415 Set in Argus, North Dakota, this novel tells the story of a very odd family and their interrelationships. It's 1932 and young Mary and Karl Adare have hitched a ride on a boxcar to seek refuge with their relatives after their mother abandons them. Karl runs back and jumps on the train, but Mary goes to join the family that runs a butcher's shop. So begins a 40 year tale of Mary, her cousin Sita and Sita's friend Celestine James, part Chippewa Indian. Most of these people are disturbed in some way. Karl is bisexual and has a yen to destroy things. Mary is determined and Sita becomes detached from reality and descends into paranoia. Karl eventually drops by for a visit, leaving Celestine with a baby, Dot - the beet queen of the title. Dot is the most disturbed of them all, totally spoiled by her mother and her aunt, with a capacity for destructive violence. (01/Dec/1987).

Erdrich, L. 1988
Tracks. Henry Holt and Co., New York, USA 226 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3555 R285 T759 Set in the early years of the 20th century in North Dakota. Recounts the lives of a group of Aboriginal people and Métis. The Aboriginal people are struggling to hold on to the last of their lands, puzzled by the legal forms and writing of the Europeans and weakened by disease and whisky. Part of the tale is narrated by Nanapush, an elder of the tribe, sorrowing at the gradual destruction of his people and their land, clearheaded enough to realize that they must make an accommodation with the Europeans but are unsure exactly how to go about it. Through him we watch the lives of Fleur Pillager, a beautiful young woman believed by other villagers to have supernatural powers or at least be capable of black magic. Fleur clings to the old ways and her belief in her own power will not allow her to adapt. The other main narrator is Pauline, a Métis, who renounces her Aboriginal heritage and claims to be white when she finally enters the convent. She is a very troubled woman, at odds with her own sexuality and concerned with intense self-mortification in her vocation in an effort to obliterate her own doubts. She hates Fleur, and through her own actions, at least partly causes Fleur's downfall. Some of these characters reappear in Erdich's later novels. She follows several themes. How by this time many of the Aboriginal people had a strong admixture of European, mainly French blood, and the tribal system was virtually breaking down. How clan feuds within the tribe and the Reservation accelerated the breakup of tribal lands and how some conspired with the European interlopers to hasten the breakup. Also shows how some were willing to adapt, or at least accepted the fact that they had no future unless they adapted. This book reminds me a lot of Margaret Laurence's Madawaska, set in Manitoba. (11/Sep/1991).

Erdrich, L. 2009
The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, USA x + 496 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3555 R285 R44 Thirty-six short stories. Most are set in North Dakota, in and around the town of Argus and its region. Many feature Chippewa or Ojibwe people, often from the Nanapush or Kashpaw families. Several are stories or contain characters that later found their way into longer novels, such as The Beet Queen. Some stories feature first or second generation immigrant families of Polish, German or Scandinavian descent. A few feature Métis characters, often with strong French background. Many of the characters are flawed or self-destructive. Many of the families and relationships are dysfunctional. Winter and the harsh climate of North Dakota and the plains are ever present in these stories. A few are set in nearby Minnesota, while a very few have an eastern US locale. Erdrich is a very good writer and these stories are strongly evocative of place and distinctive cultures. (14/Dec/2009).

Gallaher, B. 2008
The Frog Lake Massacre. TouchWood Editions, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada 246 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8563 A424 F76 The Frog Lake Massacre took place on April 2 1885 in central Alberta near the Saskatchewan border. It was a manifestation of the unrest in western Canada, which culminated in the Second Riel Rebellion. Events at Frog Lake are told from the perspective of Caleb Caine or, as he calls himself, Jack Strong, a young man from the west coast who has travelled to the interior for adventure and to take part in the "Indian Wars." After a winter trading among the Cree, he finds himself sympathetic to their plight. The fictional account follows the historical events closely. The tale is written simply and is a very quick read. (25/Aug/2009).

Govier, K. 1987
Between Men. Penguin Books 312 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8557 O98 B565 Two stories in one. Calgary then and now. Suzanne Vail, a lecturer in Western Canadian history at Foothills College in southeast Calgary (possibly based on Mount Royal College), whose personal life is a complex mix of problems both personal and professional. The only woman and the only Canadian on faculty, she is teaching western Canadian history, a topic her departmental chair regards as irrelevant and not real history. Her current research project concerns the brutal killing of an Aboriginal woman, Rosalie New Grass, in Calgary in 1889, a time when the town was still wild and justice was difficult to obtain. The man who killed her, a blacksmith called Jumbo Fisk, got fourteen years in prison for manslaughter not murder. At first, Suzanne thinks she'll write an academic article for a scholarly journal, to help her career, but this gradually morphs into an imaginative recreation of the events surrounding the murder and trial, as seen through the eyes of Murphy, an easterner who reported the case for the papers back east. Murphy, Suzanne posits, was the father of Rosalie's unborn child. She had been a servant in his house and a companion to his wife, Evangeline. Murphy feels little remorse of sense of responsibility for her terrible death. In part, Suzanne's obsession is born of her frustration at the lack of solid information she finds in her documentary research. In part, it is simply her attempt to make the past come alive. Her obsession with Rosalie becomes sharpened when it seems that the girl may have been pregnant and the murder has some of the character of a botched abortion. The crime actually resulted from a revolting male challenge gone wrong. Suzanne too had lost a child during her marriage to Ashley (Ace) Cunningham, son of a wealthy Calgary family, connected to the oil industry. In many ways, she identifies with Rosalie and needs to find out about Rosalie's death before she can make progress with her own life. Ace is irresponsible but attractive and Suzanne has known him since they were children. But she is now in the process of divorcing him. She meets Simon Ross, an older man, also from back east, who has recently moved to Calgary, hoping to make money as a consultant advising oilmen how deal with the new legislation that he helped draft, or so he says. He and Suzanne begin a passionate affair, even though he is totally self-absorbed. Eventually, Suzanne figures out the roots of her dissatisfaction. She desperately wants a child. Once she realizes this, the question is, which man? Ace or Simon? Simon wants to move back east but Suzanne knows that her place is in western Canada. As the tale ends, Suzanne and Ace are getting together again to have a child, despite the divorce. Suzanne views the child as an affirmation of life and a kind of antidote to the death of Rosalie. In all ways, both women were between men in their specific time and place. (16/Oct/1988, 20/April/2010).

Grove, F. P. 2006
Settlers of the Marsh. Originally published 1925. Penguin Books, New York, USA 191 pages.
Describes the life of a young Swedish settler to Canada, Niels Lindstedt, around the time of WW1. He settles somewhere in Manitoba. Online sources suggest that the novel is set in the Big Grass Marsh area, just west of Lake Manitoba, north of the community of Gladstone; the marsh is now an important waterfowl habitat area. Niels clears land and "proves up" his claim. He has dreams of marriage and children. He becomes attracted to the daughter of a neighbour, Ellen Amundsen, another Swedish settler. But she won't marry him, largely because she has been horrified by the destruction of her mother by the constant childbearing and brutality of her father and doesn't want to place herself in the same situation of vulnerability, even though she loves Niels too. He is very innocent and during a rare visit to town has an encounter with Mrs Clara Vogel. It is clear to us, but not to Niels, that she's the local bad girl. But after, as he thinks, dishonoring her, he feels he has to marry her and she unexpectedly agrees perhaps to get some security in her life. But she is bored on the farm and has no intention of doing chores or of becoming a good settlers wife. His neighbours avoid Niels and he can't understand why until one of them cruelly enlightens him. In a rage, he goes home and finds her entertaining two men and realizes in a flash that his home has been turned into the local brothel. He gets a shotgun and kills her and also shoots and kills the big Percheron stallion, Jack, a rather obvious attempt to kill his own masculine impulses. He goes to town and turns himself in, expecting to be hanged, But his neighbours, and jury members, pity him and his is convicted of manslaughter and jailed for six years. At the end, he comes back to the homestead, having nowhere else to go, and finds that his hired-man, Bobby, has kept the place going for him and that Ellen is waiting for him, having had a change of heart, As the novel ends, it is clear that they are going to marry and raise a family, both sadder and wiser people. The story is predictable and rather banal, but the best parts of the novel are the descriptions of settler life, clearing the land, getting established and the way a community gradually forms. The beauty of the land - bush though it is - is described and it is clear that Niels - and us through him - loves it and see it as a place of beauty and promise. (15/Apr/2012).

Haley, S. 1987
Getting Married in Buffalo Jump. E. P. Dutton, New York, USA 276 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8558 A355 G394 Set in southern Alberta, concerns the unconventional romance of Sophia, a kindergarten teacher, daughter of a widowed homesteader, and Alexander Bresnyarchuk, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. Sophia agrees to marry him after a marriage proposal old-style, which is mainly a deal about their farms first. So she decides to find out more about him and untangles a convoluted web of relationships between the local Indian band, despised by everyone, and the Ukrainian community, despised by the other EuroCanadians. (02/Dec/1988).

Helgason, G. 2001
Swimming into Darkness. Coteau Books, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 284 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8565 E4534 S85 A story in two parallel streams. The first is set in 1998 in Edmonton, where Thora Sigurdson, a historical archaeologist with the Provincial Museum of Northern Alberta, is overseeing the restoration and opening of a new historic site, the Markus Olafsson homestead. He was an immigrant from Iceland and a poet, who mysteriously disappeared one day in 1920, possibly drowned in the North Saskatchewan River. Thora feels a strong connection to him because she is also the daughter of Icelandic immigrants. The heritage project is going well, apart from some seepage into the basement of the homestead, possibly as a consequence of the high water levels in the river that spring. As she thinks about Markus and his vision of the world, Thora is also remembering her early teen years, spending the summers at a cabin on Whitefish Lake in east central Saskatchewan (not far from Yorkton) and not far from her home town of Gilead. The summer of 1962 was memorable for the Doctors' Strike, provoked after the Saskatchewan Government brought in a bill to provide medical insurance for the citizens. The medical profession saw it as an infringement of their rights and creeping communism, and the stage was set for a confrontation. The strike leads to tensions in the community, which are reflected in anger at Dr Robert McConnell, the local doctor based in Gilead. He's the father of Thora's best friend that summer, Gretchen, a bookish student, a loner like Thora, more interested in studying grasshoppers than going to beach parties. Through this recollection, there are ominous hints that something bad is going to happen. And the eventual tragedy colours all Thora's memories of her youth and still affects and troubles her in 1998. The central theme of the story is guilt. In this way, the title works well, because throughout there are undercurrents: literal, metaphorical and psychological. Thora's guilt at her passivity and cowardice during the 1962 summer and Markus's guilt at his actions which he felt caused the death of his son, and which makes him react in revulsion to his poetry. The consequences of these guilt feelings echo through the years and Thora finally realizes in 1998 that she will not be able to have a complete life until she confronts them, which she does symbolically by resolving to look through her old photo album from 1962. Denial is another theme. Markus wants to deny, or at least, ignore the darker side of Icelandic mythology and folk beliefs, though in the crisis of his life they rise up to influence his actions. Thora struggles to deny her complicity in mob action and substitutes her interest in lives of people in the distant past for any real connection to living people in the present. Helgason captures the complexities of teenage years very well, and I found this strand of the story more successful and engaging than the narrative of the adult Thora. The novel is based on a real event - the Doctors' Strike. It was eventually resolved by an outside arbiter, which resulted in doctors being able to opt out and direct bill if they chose. Soon thereafter the same (or similar) insurance system was implemented across Canada and the Saskatchewan Premier of the day, Tommy Douglas, is now credited as the founder of Canadian Health Care. With the Health Care system now being regarded as a defining feature of the Canadian identity, it is strange to realize just how controversial and divisive it was at the beginning. Much of the story also seems based on real or recognizable places and events. For example, the Olafsson Homestead is recognizable at Stefansson House. Part of the fun of this story is guessing the real identities behind the characters and places! This novel has a good deal of charm and interest. (05/Aug/2011).

King, T. 1990
Medicine River. Viking, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 261 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8561 I456 M489 Medicine River is a fictional town in southern Alberta that sounds a lot like Fort Macleod. Will is a half-Native man, a photographer by training, who returns to the town after his mother dies, to open his own business. Although he is alone, with no immediate family, Will observes the events in the town with a wry and gentle humour. His filter to the world is provided by Harlen Bigbear, a distant relative, who is a real wheeler-dealer, knows everyone and everything that is going on in the town, and is always trying to engineer social situations. He just loves meddling in people's lives and is an inveterate gossip, but withal likeable. In between incidents in town and the nearby Reserve, Will narrates and thinks about events in his own childhood, growing up in a poor household, fatherless, and his relationships with his mother, a woman of strong character, and his brother James. (05/Dec/1991).

King, T. 1993
Green Grass, Running Water. HarperCollins, New York, USA 431 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8561 I456 G795 Set in Medicine River country in southern Alberta, the story mainly concerns Lionel, a nearing middle-age Blackfoot man who doesn't have the courage top step out of his Native world and yet can't be fully absorbed in it. He doesn't really know what he wants until events make up his mind for him and, still protesting freely, he returns to the Reserve and his roots. At the same time, there is a subsidiary story about four elderly Indians, who may or may not be mythological characters, accompanied by Coyote, travel to the Reserve to set things right. They do this by calling up an earthquake to weaken a dam that has blocked the Reserve's river and is slowly killing the cottonwoods and the river itself (a reference to the Oldman Dam?). Full implementation of the dam has been blocked by Eli, Lionel's uncle, who used to be a professor at a university back east but who came back to the Reserve. He stopped the dam construction by a mix of legal action and stubbornness, by refusing to leave the cabin his mother built which is right down valley from the dam. When the cabin is washed away and Eli killed during the dam breach, Lionel's family start rebuilding it and we know that he will move into it and continue the fight, even though he doesn't really know why. The story is funny in places, though it is black humour, and the writing is streaked through with an undertone of bitterness, and is very scathing about the effects of Christianity on Aboriginal culture. (16/Aug/1997).

Kroetsch, R. 1999
Badlands. Originally published in 1975. Stoddart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 230 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8521 R72 B14 William Dawe leads an expedition to the Red Deer River valley in 1916 and floats down the river on a roughly-constructed raft, looking for dinosaur bones. He dreams of becoming famous from his discoveries, like Barnum Brown and the Sternbergs. He spends almost all his life in the field, returning home to Ontario just a couple of days a year, to visit his pro forma wife. Anna, his daughter, is born 11 years after that 1916 expedition. The tale is told in two voices. Dawe's, as reconstructed by Anna from his field notes. And Anna herself at the age of 45 (in 1972). She decides to go visit the Badlands for herself, ten years after his death, to try to understand her father and make peace with his spirit. This is not a straightforward narrative but is complex and convoluted. Some sources for the story are obvious. Dawe has a hunchback; so did G. M. Dawson. And the rafting voyage is also out of dinosaur hunting legend. The book is difficult to read but certainly conjures up time and place very well and weaves real historical events with imaginative recreations. (25/Mar/2008).

Macomber, D. 2001
Buffalo Valley. Mira Books, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada 250 pages.
AEU BARD Buffalo Valley is a small town in North Dakota. When a huge retail store, Value-X, plans to establish an outlet on land at the edge of town, the townsfolks band together to try and keep the store out. The town has struggled for years but has finally started to get going again, thanks to some innovative ideas from local business people (like making pasta from their wheat instead of selling the grain on the depressed world market). They know that Value-X will kill the town. The best way of keeping the store out, the women decide, is to persuade the absentee landowner not to sell the land to the developer. Easier said than done, when the asking price is so high. Into this town arrives a man called Vaughn Kyle, fresh out of the army and newly hired by Value-X. He's here to visit an old friend of his parents, Hassie Knight, who runs the pharmacy, and to scope out the town for the company. But once in the town, he meets Carrie Hendrickson, falls in love, and decides to stay, marry Carrie and open a feed store. (27/Jun/2004).

McDonald, B. 1999
Dakota Incarnate. Minnesota Voices Project Number 92. New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA 112 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3563 C3575 D34 Four short stories set in South Dakota, each exploring some aspect of Dakota history through fiction. Rosebud Requiem tells the story of a young man, Tom Fleming, who, about 1910, tries to homestead on some arid land that was formerly the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He comes from a farming community in Mankato, Minnesota, but is hoping to make something of himself in Dakota. The work is unremittingly hard and he is lonely. So he tries to find a "mail order" wife. The young girl who responds to his letter, Ellen Thomas, is from urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She knows nothing of farming and even the trip to Dakota is a big adventure for her. It is clear this is not going to work out. David's Drummer is a powerful and disturbing story. It follows a young man, David Hofer, from a Hutterite community, Gadsen, as he responds to the draft in 1918. He has to go to Fort Riley, Kansas, for training but, as a pacifist, he refuses to comply, even to the extent of putting on a uniform. His fate is one of the main motivations for the Hutterites to leave Dakota and trek to Canada, where they hope they will be able to follow their lifestyle without abuse. In The Essay Contest, a young farm boy, Jack, describes his life on the farm in rural Dakota in 1935. Finally, in Dakota Reincarnation, an elderly man meets the reincarnation of his grandfather, Jeremiah Lyons, who died exactly 100 years earlier in 1893. This gives the writer a chance to explore all the changes in life and technology that have happened over the century and the impacts on rural Dakota, in particular rural depopulation. The first two stories are, in my view, the best of this set but they are all interesting and well-written. (29/Jul/2010).

Meese, E. 2009
A Magpie's Smile. NeWest Press, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 353 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8626 E36 M36 Set in Calgary in 1977, oil boom times when the city is rapidly expanding and attracting new residents from all across Canada, especially the east. Bodies start turning up, clubbed to death and then scalped. The job of solving the crimes is given to detective John Jacob (aka Jake) Fry. He's recently divorced and prone to anger but, unlike most of the other characters, he's a longtime Calgarian, who has been on the force for twenty years. There are enough scattered clues through the text so that it's obvious who the killer is from early on. Unfortunately, this book is really poorly constructed. The characters speak in long strings of profanities, all are dysfunctional, and they all hate Calgary. Meese spends far too long describing minor characters, only to have them disappear. And he repeats phrases constantly. I think he's trying to write a "noir" novel but it just comes across as artificial and irritating. "He did not respect Strahan. He did not like Strahan. He could barely stand the sight of Strahan" (p. 218). We get it, OK. Especially after we've been told the same thing in the same words numerous times before. In a particularly egregious example (pp. 56-57), we read about the killing of one victim. After describing his sensations as he dies ending with "He felt nothing," Meese goes on for another paragraph describing all the subsequent sensations and actions that the victim did not feel. Meese seems to have forgotten the novelist's dictum that you should show not tell and spends far too much time telling us in detail about places and people that have only tangential relevance to the story. The characters are wooden and all so dislikeable that it's difficult to care what happens to them. However, the Calgary setting is interesting, with the Glenbow Museum as a particularly important locale. (22/Aug/2009).

Mitchell, W. O. 2005
The Kite. Originally published in 1962. Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada 215 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 K6 Set in the late 1950s. David Lang, aged 39, is a TV journalist, writing ephemerata for talk shows. He's offered a more substantial assignment: to travel to the small town of Shelby, Alberta, south of Calgary on the edge of the foothills and prairie (probably modelled on High River, though it sounds like Pincher Creek). Here his task is to write a long magazine article on Daddy Sherry, aged 111 and supposedly the oldest person in Canada. As his editor points out, Sherry, born in 1849, is older than Canada itself. Reluctantly, David agrees to take on the assignment. When he gets to Shelby, he becomes gradually sucked in to the life of the town, as the local residents tell him Daddy Sherry stories. David soon finds out that Sherry is a Character, actually a real maverick and curmudgeon. Sometimes he seems to be living in the past, but at other times he's sharp and alert. David gets especially interested when he learns that Sherry was part of General Middleton's army in the 1885 Rebellion and was one of the guards of Louis Riel after his arrest. David hopes to get some revealing insights into Canadian history. But Daddy's memories are much more down-to-earth; he's always been more interested in living than observing. This is something he teaches David by example. The town is determined to give Daddy a huge celebration for his 112th birthday and David decides to extend his stay so he can attend this event. He boards with Mrs Clifford, whose widowed daughter, Helen MacLean and her young son Keith live there also. David gradually finds himself falling in love with Helen. He finds out that Daddy is Keith's great-great-grandfather. Keith is probably Daddy's closest companion. David recreates one of his own strongest childhood memories when he helps Keith to construct a kite as a gift for Daddy's birthday, a present the old man likes best of all. And so the tale closes on a joyous and hopeful note. A charming and eccentric book. (18/May/2011).

Mitchell, W. O. 1981
How I Spent My Summer Holidays. Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 224 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 H84 Loss of innocence in 1920s on the Saskatchewan prairies. Young Hugh, aged 13 years, spends his time playing with friends out on the prairie, getting into scrapes and swimming in the river. This all turns darker though when he and his friend Peter find an escaped mental home patient, Bill, in their "cave" dug out in the prairie. King Motherwell, a one-time worker at the mental home, tells them to hide Bill, realizing that he is shell-shocked from his experiences in World War 1. But tragedy strikes when Hugh finds King's wife, Bella, beaten to death in the cave and Bill missing. The search is on for Bill, who is eventually found in spring, drowned and dead. King is tried for murdering Bill, but the irony is that Bill died in a fit, of natural causes, and King actually killed Bella because he found out that she had been "fooling around." The prairie scene is highly evocative but the story is rather trite and not particularly memorable. (17/Feb/1982).

Mitchell, W. O. 1984
Since Daisy Creek. Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 277 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 S62 The story concerns Colin Dobbs, a Professor of English at a Canadian university, who has been mauled by a bear during a hunt. (03/Mar/1985).

Mitchell, W. O. 1990
Roses are Difficult Here. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 325 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 R816 Set in a foothills town in the 1950s, a fictionalized version of High River, Alberta, where Mitchell grew up. The story revolves around the town's newspaper editor, Matt Stanley, who befriends a visiting academic, Dr June Melquist. She stays in the town for six months, visiting people and doing interviews. When she leaves town and publishes her book the townsfolk are horrified and hurt by her harsh judgements. She finds the town narrow-minded, bigoted, and racist, backward in its educational standards and literacy rate, and devoid of any real culture. She condemns the professional men as cowards who have opted out, afraid of the challenges of the big city. (21/Jan/1992).

Mitchell, W. O. 1993
Who Has Seen the Wind. Originally published 1947. Stoddart, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada 293 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 W6 Set in a small town in prairie Saskatchewan in 1930s, during the Depression, tells of the childhood years of Brian O'Connal. Although not at the forefront, the Prairie is there as a main character in the tale, the land beyond the town is an always-felt presence. The story doesn't romanticize small-town life. The narrow-mindedness and bigotry, exemplified by Mrs Abercrombie, are there, as are peculiar characters and oddities, such as Saint Sammy and the Bens. Young Ben is the spirit of the prairie incarnate, untrammelled, unreachable, unteachable. (02/Mar/1997).

Mitchell, W. O. 2001
The Vanishing Point. Originally published 1973. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 398 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8525 I89 V3 Carlyle is a damaged human being. Having survived an unhappy childhood, he has lost his wife and child to sickness. He becomes a teacher at the school on the Paradise Valley Reserve, in the Alberta foothills, south of Shelby (= Calgary). The time is sometime in the late 1950s or perhaps early 1960s. A few years later, Carlyle takes on the job of Indian Agent at the Reserve, negotiating with the government on the Stoneys' behalf, and trying to drill what he feels is a needed sense of duty and responsibility into the people on the Reserve. Carlyle is frustrated by the poverty and disease he sees among the people, though he feels that much of it is induced by fecklessness and a "live for the moment" attitude. His hopes for the future of the group are focused on Victoria Rider, his star pupil. She finishes school and goes to learn to be a nurse in Shelby. Carlyle hopes that she will come back to the Reserve and help her people. But when he goes to visit the nurses' school to find out how she is getting on, he finds that she has disappeared, run away. Frantic with worry, filled with fears about what could happen to an attractive Native girl on the streets of the city, Carlyle searches for her. But Victoria has fled because she is pregnant and doesn't want to face him or her family. She is brought back to the Reserve by Archie Nicotine, a wily band councillor. Carlyle realizes that his feelings for Victoria are more than those of a teacher. As the novel closes, we see him contemplating a new life with her, with all the complications that will impose. This is written very much from the "outsider looking in" perspective and supposedly is based on Mitchell's own experiences during a year (1953) teaching at the Eden Valley Reserve in southwestern Alberta. (02/Apr/2005).

North, S. 2003
Bones to Pick. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 288 pages.
The narrator is Phoebe Fairfax, a camera-person for a TV station in Calgary. She is sent to film the opening of an exhibit at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. The exhibit features hominid bones from Africa, thought to be from a new species. The bones' finder, Dr Graham Maxwell, was originally from Alberta, but has lived in Africa for many years. Filled with bombast and arrogance, he manages to infuriate almost everyone he meets, though he is also a powerful advocate and speaker for palaeoanthropology. So when he is found dead at the Museum and the bones are missing, there are a lot of suspects, from unhappy members of his team, to former student colleagues that he annoyed many years' ago. The solution turns out to be quite mundane but along the way we meet an interesting cast of characters, and spend some hilarious moments with them. My favourite character is Professor Woodward, an elderly University of Calgary professor, a former micropalaeontologist who is doing an experiment in "de-evolution" by living rough in the bush of the forest reserve near Phoebe's house. He finds his main difficulty with "de-evolving" is the boredom, since he misses his books and movies! Written in a quirky, witty style, this is a good read. (19/May/2005).

Powe, B. A. 1983
The Aberhart Summer. Lester and Orpen Dennys, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 215 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8566 O95 A74 A memory of Edmonton and rural Alberta in 1935, the year that Aberhart and his Social Credit Party were bringing promises of prosperity and an end to the Depression. Doug Sayers and his friends Norm and Babe Roothe, aged 15, are enjoying the summer until one weekend when Babe goes into a neighbour's barn and hangs himself. Doug is haunted by the death of his friend and does not find out why he did this until 10 years' later at the end of WWII when he meets accidentally in a military hospital another friend from those days. The friend reveals that Babe was really killed by the jealous father of his girlfriend. Now in the 1980s, his mother has just died in the old house in Edmonton, and Doug has gone back to clear out the place and thus is reliving these old incidents. He remembers also Babe's older brother, Albert, a passionate disciple of Social Credit, who gets himself elected to the Provincial Government in the election of 1935. Politics and personal lives are inextricably mixed. (23/Oct/1984).

Richards, D. 1993
Soldier Boys. Thistledown Press Ltd, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada 254 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8568 I148 S684 Set in the prairies in 1885, this is an account of the initial military action at Batoche, told from the perspective of two teenaged boys, one on either side of the conflict. Tom Kerslake is 13 (almost 14) and is the bugler for the newly-formed 90th Battalion Winnipeg Rifles, a volunteer force raised specifically to put down the Mtis side, we have Luc Goyette, son of a Mtis fighters because his father refuses to fight and Gabriel Dumont threatens to arrest him (or worse) as a traitor. Luc agrees to fight to spare his father that fate. And so we see the encounter at Batoche from both sides, with much mutual misunderstanding and savagery and bravery by both groups. Both boys survive though for each it is a "growing up" and formative experience and both know that things will never be the same in the Saskatchewan county. Luc returns to a diminished and divided community, and Tom wants to persuade his uncle and father to move west and homestead near Batoche. Written in a simple language but with great fluidity. this appears to be aimed at a young adult readership. As far as I can tell, the events are factually accurate and well-imagined. (31/May/2011).

Roy, G. 2010
Where Nests the Waterhen. Re-issue of original, published in 1950. Translated by H. L. Binsse. New Canadian Library, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 205 pages.
AEU HSS PS 9535 O98 P4 E5 Stories of settlers in central Manitoba. Set in the 1930s at Meadow Portage or Portage des Prés, north of Rorketon. The Tousignant family lives even further north, on the Little Waterhen Lake, near the Waterhen River, on small island. Waterhen Lake is about 300 km northwest of Winnipeg. It is in Manitoba's Interlake District and is east of Lake Winnipegosis. This novel is based on Roy's real life experience as a summer teacher in the Waterhen district in the summer of 1937. The book is in three sections - novellas really. The first section, called "Luzina Takes a Holiday," deals with the matriarch of the family, Luzina, and follows her on one of her annual trips south to Sainte Rose du Lac to be delivered of a child. At this point, she has eight children already. Later we learn that she had ten children in the first fourteen years of marriage. Her husband, Hippolyte, manages a farm and sheep ranch for the local bigwig, Bessette, who owns the general store and thereby controls the lives and income of most of the area's inhabitants (i.e., by giving goods on credit and then claiming their produce [e.g., furs from trapping] in payment). Luzina regards this trip as her annual "holiday," a chance to connect with the outside world, meet some new people, and take a look at trends and fashions. The second part, "The School on the Little Waterhen," recounts Luzina's efforts to set up a school for her children. A teacher is supplied because she has six children of school age. The section recounts the differing teaching approaches of the three teachers they have billeted with them over the next three summers. This is the only schooling the children get. Eventually Luzina and Hippolyte see that their children will have to go south to get more schooling. One by one the children leave home, often going to relatives in the Saint Boniface area, near Winnipeg. Most never return, though some do settle in the nearby towns to the south of the Waterhen district. The third part, "The Capuchin from Toute Aides," describes the journey of Father Joseph-Marie to the Little Waterhen. His parish and church is in Rorketon. From here, he travels to surrounding communities. He visits the Waterhen once a year, which is a big event for the family and their, distant, neighbours. Roy paints a portrait of a diverse community, mainly of east European, especially Ukrainian, settlers, and French-Canadians, like the Tousignants, with some Métis. There are Aboriginal people on the reserve too, but they live in a different world and don't interact much with the Europeans. It's a hard and isolated life and the families have to be self-sufficient. Roy describes these people in an aura of innocence, sweetness and goodness. This is rather cloying and is difficult to read now without a sense of irony. In a way, this is a patronizing portrait, since Roy continually emphasizes the ignorance and unworldliness of the people. Nevertheless, it is quite readable. (28/Nov/2010).

Ryga, G. 2004
The Prairie Novels. edited and with an introduction by James Hoffman. TalonBooks, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 316 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8535 Y995 A15 Consists of three short novels: Hungry Hills, Ballad of a Stonepicker, and Night Desk. The cover and the introduction to this volume are both rather misleading. The cover suggests a setting in southern Alberta or Saskatchewan, out on the plains; in fact, the first two novels are set in bush country of north central Alberta near Athabasca (the region where Ryga grew up) and the third is set in Edmonton. From internal evidence, none of the novels appear set in the Depression era (late 1920s-early 1930s) and the third is clearly set in the 1960s (mention of the Korean War, use of the term hippie). It is true that the first two hearken back to Depression-era events, especially in Hungry Hills. All deal primarily with the experience of first or second generation immigrants to western Canada from eastern Europe or Ukraine. Apparently, according to the introduction by James Hoffman, this draws on Ryga's own family history and work-life experiences. All are told in the first person by the central character apparently narrating events to someone else. In the second and third novels in particular, the story is carried along solely by narrative, a stream of reminiscences told in vernacular. In Hungry Hills (published in 1963), the narrator is Snit Mandolin, a young man who is trying to go home to his rural community. He had been removed from his family home as a youth and sent to a youth home in Edmonton, from where he escaped. He went to work in his teen years for a cafe and garage owner, pumping gas and learning how to be a mechanic repairing cars. Located on the main road outside the city, the place is mainly a truck stop (used by trucks from Saskatoon among other places) but is a safe refuge for Snit until the owner, Pete, sells it. With nowhere else to go, Snit heads back north to the hills. He finds his aunt Matilda still working the farm, but barely eking out a poor living. She tells him he is the product of incest which is why his family is so despised by the other locals and the real reason why he was taken away by Constable Kane, the local RCMP officer and Snit's nemesis. Snit becomes involved in the moonshine business with the local bad boy Johnny Swift. (Prohibition occurred in Alberta between 1913 and 1923 but events in the novel clearly occur later than this; Pete takes Snit to see a movie, How Green Was My Valley, which was made in 1941, so the action takes place in the 1940s at least). Swift is violent and uncontrollable and eventually kills the local storeowner, Tom Whittles, the event which is the climax of the novel. The area is heavily impoverished and people have to make a living somehow, working very hard on the farms. The area has been hard-hit by drought and the farms are not productive. In the second novel, Ballad of a Stonepicker (published in 1966), the narrator is in his late 20s and worn out from work on the family farm, again in bush country, He's talking to a visitor, who is going to write a magazine article about his brother, Jim. The visitor knew Jim in England, where he had gone as a Rhodes Scholar, and seemingly had escaped from the farm. But he died, probably a suicide, in motorcycle accident, unable to bear the weight of expectations placed upon him and the financial burden he'd placed on his family. The narrator explains that he has to continue working the farm to pay off his brother's debts, the debts the family incurred to send him away to school. He looks worn out and explains that his father died at 43, worn out by hard work. He tells his tale through incidents and we meet a spectrum of characters that inhabit the farming community. None of them are prosperous or happy; marriages are often violent and drinking and violence mark most social interactions. He says he can't tell Jim's story without telling these stories and through them we certainly see why a kid with intelligence and sensibility would want to get away. The narrative ends with the burial of the narrator's father. When the whole community turns out, he realizes that he is totally connected to these people and the land by common experiences and stories. This is perhaps the best developed of the novels, and the most believable. The third novel, Night Desk (1976) is based, according to Hoffman, on stories Ryga gathered when working as a desk clerk in the Selkirk Hotel in Edmonton in the early 1960s, especially the tales told by a man called Nick Zubray. The hotel here is seedy and run down, inhabited mainly be drifters and losers. Ryga's narrator is Romeo Kuchmir, a descendant of Tartars, a self-described man of the night, who is proud of his independence and the fact that he won't work for wages. He's a wrestling and boxing fight promoter, making use of the skills he knows and the inborn violence of his nature. In his exuberance and zest for life, Kuchmir has some similarities to Zorba, likewise in his appetites and craving for women. But Kuchmir's relationships are crude, violent, and usually transitory. Women are there to satisfy his appetites but not to be companions or friends. This novel in particular is crude, vulgar, and earthy, and we learn far more than we want to know about Kuchmir's baser urges and experiences. He is, nevertheless, the most vividly alive and forceful of the three narrators, filled with optimism and not the downtrodden hopelessness and passive acceptance of the two other main characters. Kuchmir is selfish and only concerned with himself, unlike the other narrators who have at least a rudimentary sense of responsibility to others. As a hotel inhabitant, constantly on the move, Kuchmir is the only one who is not connected to a stable community or to a place. These novels are readable and thought-provoking, although not particularly enjoyable. Ryga is best known as a playwright, especially for "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe." (19/Jun/2011).

Schroeder, A. 1986
Dust-Ship Glory. Doubleday Canada Ltd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 215 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8569 C55 D97 Based on a true story, tells the tale of Tom Sukanen, a dour Finlander, who started to build a large ocean-going vessel on his farm in Manybones, Saskatchewan, during the "Dirty Thirties." His antagonism and antisocial behaviour anger and alienate his neighbours, to the extent that they eventually have him committed to a mental institution. There he retreats into catatonia and dies a couple of years later. A picture of prairie society in the 1930s, rigid hierarchic and intolerant, with no real empathy for those who are different. (11/Dec/1986).

Stegner, W. 1943
The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Reprinted in 2010. Penguin Classics, New York, USA xiii + 639 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3537 T235 B5 This is brilliant. It is a sad, wise, and utterly absorbing novel of the North American western interior. It tells of the marriage of Harry (Bo) Mason and Elsa Norgaard. Their story starts in the small town of Hardanger in North Dakota in late 1904. Elsa has come west from Iowa to keep house for her uncle, Karl, after her father had remarried, with indecent haste after the death of her mother, her close schoolfriend Sarah. The first person she meets when she steps off the train in Hardanger is Harry Mason. He's from Rock River in Illinois. His father, Fred Mason, is a Civil War veteran who lost an arm in the conflict. He's a brutal and violent man and father of seven children, six boys and a girl, all of whom hate him and all of whom leave home as soon as they can. Harry is the youngest and leaves at the age of 14 after one last violent confrontation with his father. He's very intelligent with a good memory despite little schooling. For years, he drifts around the mid-west, never staying for longer than a couple of years in any place and often much less than that. He trains for a while as a carpenter, a trade he is good at, and even plays semiprofessional baseball. But he's always looking for a get rich quick scheme, something that'll give him lots of money for not much effort. Though he is and can be a very hard worker when he's keen on something. Basically, he gets easily bored and wants to move on to the next thing. When Elsa meets him, he is running a pool hall which is a front for a "blind pig," a place that sells beer and liquor illegally. He is strong, good-looking and has an easy charm, which fascinates Else. They soon marry, even though Elsa has seen signs of the violence and fecklessness in his character. They move to Grand Forks where Bo runs a hotel and also sells liquor. They have two boys - Chester (Chet) and Bruce. Attracted by tales of Klondike gold, Bo determines to go to the Yukon but, while waiting for the boat in Seattle, Chester gets sick with scarlet fever and the family is quarantined. For a while, they run a cafe in a small town called Richmond, living in a tent shanty. Their younger boy, Bruce, is a fearful clingy child and his softness irritates Bo and arouses his anger. He wants Bruce to toughen up but the abuse Bruce suffers at his father's hands just makes Bruce worse. After Bo assaults Bruce and quarrels with Elsa, he takes off to Saskatchewan to run a bunkhouse for ranch-hands and railway workers while Elsa and the boys go home to her family in Indian Falls, Iowa. She's just about made up her mind to divorce Bo and marry a local man who has loved her for years, when Bo writes that he has taken up a homestead near Whitemud, Saskatchewan (really East End) and asks Elsa to bring the boys to join him. The only thing that Elsa really wants is a home, a stable home, and so, apprehensive but optimistic, she goes to join him. We see life on the homestead mainly through the eyes of Bruce who loves it. Much of this account closely resembles' Stegner's memoir Wolf Willow. To Bruce, it is an idyllic place of freedom and adventure. But Bo isn't cut out to be a farmer. Drought and falling wheat prices at the end of the First World War drive them back into town. The flu epidemic sweeps across the prairies and Bo sees an opportunity in running whisky, code-named medicine, from Montana into Whitemud. For the next few years, he makes a living as a bootlegger, later running liquor from Canada into the States when prohibition sets in. There are some wonderful descriptions here of his driving across the prairies at night. Eventually, Bo is forced to flee when some of the small time thugs he deals with steal his car and liquor one night, ambushing him on a remote road, and he barely escapes with his life. The family now winds up in Salt Lake City and Bo takes up the bootlegging trade again. The family moves often but now within the city, a bigger place, which finally gives the boys some continuity since they go to the same school for a while. This is good because Bruce is an intelligent and bookish lad and seems set for some kind of career. Chet discovers a talent for baseball and looks set to have a career in the minor leagues despite his unfortunate entanglement at the age of seventeen with an older girl, Laura - herself the product of a dysfunctional family. But Bo is arrested for bootlegging and Chet with him as collateral damage. Chet is so disheartened and ashamed by this that he abandons hopes of a baseball career and leaves home, marrying Laura in defence of Elsa and Bo's wishes. He soon succumbs to pneumonia, leaving his wife and a baby daughter, Anne. Bruce is now at college, studying to be a lawyer (his aunt Kristin, Elsa's sister married a lawyer, George, and they help him). Elsa gets breast cancer and has surgery, seeming to make a recovery. Bo, now restless again, moves her to Reno, Nevada, where he becomes a part owner of a casino. At first, times are good. Bo builds a cabin at Lake Tahoe and Elsa is happy. Bruce, home for summer vacation, is glad to see this. But the casino venture doesn't do well - Bo is forced to sell out and Elsa's cancer returns. She wants to go back to Salt Lake City where Chet is buried and so they do. Bruce has to watch her die, horribly, and Bo is no help to her, concentrated on his own needs. Bruce realizes that Elsa really loves Bo and that they have a strong marriage despite everything. Elsa tells Bruce that she knows that Bo has another woman. She even forgives him that because he has been faithful to her for so many years. She tells Bruce that Bo needs support from a strong woman to give him confidence. After her death, Bruce has a final quarrel with his father and returns to Iowa to complete his law degree. Bo drifts. Now over 60, he tries to invest in a mine, another money-losing enterprise. Finally, he shoots himself, dying in the lobby of a seedy hotel, where he had been staying, after first shooting and killing his girlfriend, Elaine Nesbitt. Bruce goes to Salt Lake City to bury his father and wind up his affairs. He finds an old dented silver shaving mug inscribed "Champion of North Dakota, Single Traps, Harry Mason 1905." Although Bruce doesn't know it, Bo won that on an early date with Elsa and it was perhaps the high point and success of his life. Bruce is sad and ashamed but resolves that he has to live well to redeem the failure of his parent's lives. The novel is affecting, moving, and sad but hopeful too. It ends in the 1930s. It records the end of western expansionism and pioneer life. There is really no place for Bo Mason in the new world of rules and regulations and urbanization - he is a frontiersman through and through. (01/Apr/2011).

Stenson, F. 1988
Last One Home. NeWest Press, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 158 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8569 T373 L349 Set in southwest Alberta, somewhere near Pincher Creek. Gabriel, a Métis man, is called back to the family ranch by news that his father is sick. A recent graduate from Engineering at University of Calgary, he thinks he has left his past behind him but finds out that this is not the case when he has to decide how to deal with his family responsibilities. (14/Oct/1992).

Stenson, F. 2004
Lightning. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 431 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8569 T373 L54 This is an excellent read. The novel tells the life story of Doc Windham, a cowboy. He grew up in Texas, the son of a drunk, and came to Canada in 1881, driving a huge herd of cattle from Montana to Alberta to form the basis of the herd at the Cochrane Ranch. The story is told in two parallel streams. First, the story of the cattle drive and the following couple of years when Doc decides to stay in Alberta. The earlier stream starts in 1867 when Doc was a young man. He was taken by his Uncle Jack, a Civil War veteran, on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Here, in the small town of Dillon, his uncle is hanged by vigilantes for killing a brutal miner who was terrorizing a young girl. That girl, Pearly, became Doc's companion. She made money playing pool and a couple of years later, in order to protect her, Doc takes part in a vigilante attack on Ivan Overcross, a brutal and probably psychopathic man, But Doc's gunshot doesn't kill Overcross and for the next 15 years he is haunted by the thought that Overcross is hunting for him to kill him. Pearly, unable to cope with the complexity of the situation, takes herself off, an event that Doc finds devastating. He spends much of the next 15 years looking for her and hoping to find her again. The two stories come together when Overcross catches up with Doc at a ranch in the Crowsnest valley. In the climactic scene, Doc's life is saved by a young cowboy, Jim, he has befriended. This time, Doc sees a future free from fear with his new companion, Esther Prieston, the wife of an ignorant and arrogant rancher, Victor, who was Doc's employer. I enjoyed the mix of historical and fictional events. This novel has many memorable characters and scenes. (31/Dec/2006).

Sweatman, M. 2001
When Alice Lay Down With Peter. Alfred A. Knopf, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 459 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8569 W37 W43 Set in the Red River Valley, just south of Winnipeg. It traces four generations of a family seen through the eyes of Blondie, who lives for over a century. Her parents, the Alice and Peter of the title, came to Canada from Orkney and Scotland in the 1860s. Alice followed Peter, living for many years as a man. They participated in the first Riel Rebellion and Alice takes part in the firing squad that executes Thomas Scott, an event that haunts the family into the next century. Alice and Peter settle on some land by the Red River, which they acquired from a Cree man. Their nearest neighbours are Métis, Marie and her son Eli, a buffalo hunter. When the Métis are driven out in the aftermath of the Rebellion, Alice and Peter have the land to themselves. Here, Blondie grows up, dreaming of Eli. He returns eventually and, after an interlude when Blondie goes off, disguised as a man, to fight in the Boer War, they produce a daughter, Helen. She is attracted to convention in the form of Richard Anderson, son of a wealthy Winnipeg businessman. Their marriage does not last. Helen cannot deny the call of her heritage and she sets off, disguised as a man, to ride the rails as a hobo, witnessing the social unrest and rioting of the Depression era. Returning home, Helen meets Bill, a monk who abandons his vows for a life of contemplation on the family's land. Their daughter, Dianna, becomes an artist, taking her inspiration from the plants and scenery around her home. As the tale ends, modernity, in the shape of foreclosure on debt engineered by Richard, makes the future of the property look precarious. Dianna's daughter, another Helen, is a toddler. And the River, a constant background presence, may be a greater threat to the land than development. (28/Jun/2003).

Ursell, G. 1984
Perdue or How the West Was Lost. Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 198 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8571 R89 P43 An allegorical tale of the settling of the west of Canada, seen through the eyes of Perdue, a son of the first settler. Perdue does not age but continues to live and watch the events of the last century, safe in a sort of suspended prairie paradise. (07/Oct/1984).

Valgardson, W. D. 1980
Gentle Sinners. Oberon Press, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 213 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A39 G33 Story of growing up in a small Manitoba town during the Depression. Bobby, renamed Eric, runs away from his harsh Bible-thumping parents and goes back to the family farm and his uncle Sigurd. There he learns about his roots and begins to learn responsibility and self-reliance. Absolutely superb, good portrait of characters and tensions and troubles that afflict even small-town life. (09/May/1981).

Valgardson, W. D. 2011
What the Bear Said: Skald Tales from New Iceland. Turnstone Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada x + 130 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A39 W43 A skald is a poet or bard, basically a teller of heroic tales. New Iceland is the Interlake area, around Gimli, in Manitoba. Valgardson grew up there, the child of Icelanders. The fourteen tales in this collection spring from the stories he heard around his parent's kitchen table as a child. They incorporate bits of Icelandic myth, but also some elements of folklore from their new land, such as the windigo. These are folktales, characters can change shape and form, pass from this world into the parallel world of the huldafolk and back, animals communicate, and trolls are a present danger. Some tales are set in Canada and spring from the hardships, homesickness and isolation that the emigrants found in their new land. Mythical beings, the huldafolk and trolls, appear, perhaps having accompanied the people to the New World. Other tales are set in Iceland and highlight the poverty and social repression that forced people to migrate in search of a better life. One tale is told from the perspective of a Ukrainian family, and shows tensions between different immigrant groups. The father is horrified and ashamed when his daughter runs away to marry an Icelander. Not unexpectedly for a people constantly on the verge of starvation, food plays a large role in many of these tales. Friendship and comfort are symbolized by the giving of food, and enmity and poor behaviour by withholding food. The tales are all set in rural communities, where fishing, hunting, and subsistence farming provide a precarious and hard won livelihood. (09/Oct/2011).

Vanderhaeghe, G. 1989
Homesick. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 292 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A54 H765 Set in Connaught, a small town in Saskatchewan in 1959. Alec Monkman is in his 70s and beginning to deteriorate. His daughter, Vera, and her 12 year-old son, Daniel, are coming back to live there. Vera left 17 years' previously, after her mother died, to escape Alec's domination and he has never seen Daniel. During the subsequent year, until the old man dies of stroke, the family feuds are played out. As in life, nothing is resolved; the book offers a snapshot of three lives and a picture of small town life. (17/Mar/1990).

Vanderhaeghe, G. 1996
The Englishman's Boy. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 333 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A54 E5 A story that takes place at three times and places - southern Alberta in 1873, Hollywood in 1923, and Saskatoon in 1953. The common thread is Harry Vincent, would-be screen-writer, who is recalling his youth in Hollywood from old-age in Saskatoon. Back in the 1920s, he is commissioned by Chance, a megalomaniac movie studio owner who wants to make a great American epic, to track down an old cowboy, used occasionally as an extra in Westerns, named Shorty McAdoo. Chance feels that he may have stories to tell about the Old West that will make the basis for a movie. Vincent tracks down McAdoo, who eventually tells him about his witnessing of and role in the Cypress Hills massacre and in particular the murder of a young Assiniboine girl. When Chance hears this story, he is taken with it, but he changes it, for dramatic reasons, so that it is McAdoo that sets the fire that kills the girl. McAdoo finds out and is outraged, both at what he sees as Harry's betrayal and the corruption and distortion of the truth. In the climactic scene, his young companion, Wylie, who is mentally-challenged, shoots Chance at the movie's première. McAdoo disappears again and Harry returns to Saskatoon. The best parts of the tale are the accounts of McAdoo's life on the Prairies in the 1870s. Here he is known as "the Englishman's boy," because he was the servant of an Englishman, a would-be hunter, who died before reaching the Prairies. McAdoo is a drifter. He meets up with a band of wolfers and outcasts who head to the Cypress Hills in search of some stolen horses. The book is bracketted by the account of the theft of these horses by some Blackfoot(?) men who take them back to their camp, utterly unaware of the repercussions of their action. (09/Oct/1997).

Vanderhaeghe, G. 2002
The Last Crossing. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 393 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A54 L37 Set in western interior Canada during the whisky trade era, the late nineteenth century. Concerns the three brothers of the wealthy British middle-class Gaunt family. One, Simon, has come to western Canada and then disappeared. Back in England, his father, Henry, sends his other two sons, Addington and Charles (Simon's twin), to try to find him. The story is told from various viewpoints, though Charles is the main character. Others become involved in the journey across the southern Alberta prairies: Jerry Potts, who is their guide, Lucy Stoveall, who is hunting for the men she believes killed her sister, Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran who wants Lucy to marry him, and Aloysius Dooley, a bar-keep who keeps an eye on Straw. This ill-assorted crew travel together, driven hither and yon by Addington's unpredictability and moodiness. This is finely written and evocative, with an almost dreamlike quality. (23/Oct/2003, 28/Oct/2005).

van Herk, A. 1978
Judith. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 190 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8572 A585 J92 A young Alberta woman, brought up on a pig farm near Stettler, rejects her parents' way of life and goes to live in Edmonton. She determines to return to the land out of guilt when her father dies, and so she starts up a pig farm of her own. The tale covers the first six months or so of her struggles to get the first litter of pigs bred successfully and her interaction with her neighbours and the local people. (15/Apr/1994).

Wiebe, A. 1984
The Salvation of Yasch Siemens. Turnstone Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada 176 pages.
AEU BARD PS 8573 I19 S3 Set in southern Manitoba near the US border in the 1960s. Concerns the growing up and courtships of Yasch Siemens. He belongs to a Mennonite community, all of German descent, who speak a dialect of English sprinkled with German words. The story is written in this dialect, which makes it hard to follow. (27/Sep/1984).
Number of citations: 58
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This presentation has been compiled and is © 1998-2012 by
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