Lost and Last Prayers
- Raymond Fraser (Author)
In Another Life. Lion's Head (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Lesley Choyce (Author)
Seven Ravens: Two Summers in a Life by the Sea. Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Alden A. Nowlan (Author)
The Wanton Troopers: Reader's Guide Edition. Goose Lane Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Susie DeCoste
Lesley Choyce and Raymond Fraser are well-established writers, but their work will never comprise the position in the Maritime Canadian canon that Alden Nowlan’s does. Nowlan was a well-loved writer of the twentieth century whose works helped to establish many dominant themes in Maritime literature; as his first novel, The Wanton Troopers is significant to reading his oeuvre as well as the established literature of the region. The prominence of this edition’s recovered final page of the manuscript—the prayer that readers of previous versions only saw the beginning phrase of—leads this omnibus review to see the group of texts in light of it.
In the first section of Fraser’s novel In Another Life, two young men set out to make their fortunes and instead make a series of bad decisions including non-stop drinking and burning bridges in new every relationship. Their motivations for this six-week renegade lifestyle are as unclear to the reader as they are to the characters, making them largely unsympathetic at this point. The most successful and compelling section of the novel concerns the coming-of-age of the protagonist and narrator, Walt “Sam” Macbride. Here, the frankness of the narrating voice about the awkwardness of navigating through teenage years and a first love is skillfully done. When Walt loses his high school sweetheart through his own fault, he proclaims, “There was a God alright, . . . Nothing less could have pulled off a trick of this magnitude.” He sends up a prayer that echoes the one in Troopers, pleading, “Please, God, . . . I’ll quit drinking, . . . I promise!” Walt’s prayer lacks earnestness, though, and does not redeem him as a character; he fails to take responsibility for his life, even as he enters middle age, making him heartbreaking. The falseness of Walt’s plea stands out the most when it is read in context with that noteworthy prayer in Nowlan’s novel.
Nowlan’s The Wanton Troopers, first written in 1960 and first posthumously published in 1988, introduces readers to the young and sensitive child Kevin O’Brien—perhaps better known as the protagonist of Nowlan’s novel Various Persons Named Kevin O’Brien (1973). The reader witnesses Kevin deal with the violence, alcoholism, and poverty of his family and community; Nowlan trusts his readers to see the helplessness of Kevin’s parents even as they behave in despicable ways. Kevin is the voice of morality in the text, and because he is a child no one hears him. Just as his parents have succumbed to the immoral lifestyles that poverty brings with it, the narrative suggests that so too will Kevin. The novel formerly ended with “Please God,” whereas the restored version ends with a continuation of the prayer, sincerely and solemnly naming elements of Kevin’s past, family, community, and hopeful future. In this world of devastating poverty witnessed by a child, the only appropriate way to respond to the complexities of the parents’ actions—the simultaneous despicable behavior coupled with the helplessness to their condition—is to make such a grand appeal; the newly recovered final page exemplifies and highlights Nowlan’s incredible compassion.
As a memoir written in episodic journal entries over two subsequent summers, Lesley Choyce’s memoir Seven Ravens: Two Summers in a Life by the Sea surely stands out here in genre and form. Choyce meanders through the memoir attendant to various spiritual and religious traditions including Shamanism, Buddhism, and new age thought. Some entries read as compendiums of quotable sentiment from thinkers and spiritual gurus, all with the intent of helping the narrating I come to terms with life. In one memorable section, Choyce’s dog becomes deathly ill, and he is afraid she will not make it through the night. Desperate for comfort, he places a picture of the Pope in front of her, feeling silly enough about the gesture to precede it with “I should not tell you this . . . ” But I can think of many other controversial details he should not have told readers that take precedence over the use of a Catholic figure’s picture for comfort—that he doesn’t believe in teaching the history of World War One is a prime example. Choyce’s voice is thus quite brave; and the text is genuinely spontaneous, studious, and honest about the trials of being in the world, which makes for a satisfying reading experience.
- Dreams and Inspirations by Renate Eigenbrod
Books reviewed: Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield, Runaway Dreams by Richard Wagamese, and The Next Sure Thing by Richard Wagamese
- McLuhan Redux by Christopher Keep
Books reviewed: McLuhan, or Modernism in Reverse by Glenn Willmott and Virtual Realities and Their Discontents by Robert Markley
- History in the Novel by Gregory Betts
Books reviewed: Aldershot 1945: The Novel by Bruce Allen Powe and Playing Sarah Bernhardt: A Novel by Joan Givner
- Alienations by Andrew Lesk
Books reviewed: All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland, Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Everyone in Silico by Jim Munroe, and How Did You Sleep? by Paul Glennon
- « À l'endroit du noeud » by Matthew Jordan Schmidt
Books reviewed: La Maison des temps rompus by Pascale Quiviger
MLA: DeCoste, Susie. Lost and Last Prayers. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #208 (Spring 2011), Prison Writing. (pg. 182 - 183)
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