I dropped off Matea at the airport earlier today. I’ll miss her this Christmas, but I’m back soon enough for our big trip.
It’s a very Canadian day. I’m a little under 100 pages into Fifth Business and working on my own novel while listening to The Band (see the link above).
I’ve always felt a bit indebted to Robertson Davies – he’s really the first “Canadian Author,” and The Deptford Trilogy is the premier example of wide swath literature that gets into what it means to be from above the 49th parallel. What keeps such epic pretensions from becoming, well, pretentious, is the fact that Davies’ is so quirky and lighthearted. Terrible things happen (as they do in life), but he doesn’t dwell in degradation – which, his American equivalent (and one of my favorite writers) Faulker sometimes does.
You were one of the few people to read my first novel, The Gray Stables. Evening on the Grounds, the book I’ll be working on through most of my correspondence, is a sequel in the way that The Manticore is a sequel to Fifth Business. As I’ve been working on these two novels I’ve thought about my project as akin to Davies’. I’ll of course be writing a third book which in some ways ties the first two together, and I think I’ll call the three The Paris Trilogy (because they take place in Paris, Ontario – just as The Deptford trilogy takes place in Deptford). I’ll talk more about my intended similarities in the days to come, but I wanted to share something I always notice when I’m home.
55% of people 15 and up in Toronto are first generation immigrants. It’s always amazing to me when I walk through the city, because every group of people I pass are speaking a different language. Coming from a country that has yet to come to grips with its immigration policies, I’m always so shocked to see how progressive it is here. (That’s not to say there aren’t problems, there are, bu they are not as systemic nor pervasive). The Canada that Davies and I write about it predominantly white and rural, but that Canada is gone. I don’t mean to wax nostalgic – Canada’s (and Ontario in particular) ethnic makeup now is neither better nor worse than it once was, just different – but it is very interesting to see the change in the country. It’s like being in New York in the early 20th century. There’s a kind of dynamism here that I don’t feel even in Chicago, much of which is because Chicago is still so segregated.
In many ways I feel American, but every time I come home I’m reminded about how much I still identify with Canadian culture and ethos. It seems to me that the kind of rugged individualism that the US values so highly isn’t a facet of Canadian identity. There’s a larger sense of community, of shared experience, and I hope to tap into it with my writing. I’ll be thinking about all of this as Matea and I travel through the Southwest and eventually in Wyoming.