This originally appeared in LWOT Magazine
Title: An Intricate Confluence of Merciful Happenings
Book Jacket: Black and white photograph of a girl (preferably shoeless) staring solemnly into the distance, standing in an autumnal forest. Possibly an old rope swing hanging from a branch in the background. All of this set against one of those old-fashioney maps with pictures of schooners and whale tails. Title set in elegant cursive font.
Author Photo: Black and white, sitting on rocky outcropping next to ocean, one knee casually propped up, staring forward, unsmiling.
Jacket Description: "A breathtaking novel of memory and loss, in which lost memories evoke remembrances of a time and place that is lost forever, and lives on only in memory."
The story occurs at some indeterminate point between the dawn of time and 1935 (no later). The Depression, Boer War, and Vancouver stevedore strike define the Canadian landscape.
Nattie MacDonald is a stout-hearted (but fragile) farm girl of Gaelic descent. She is raised by her father on a Saskatchewan acreage that borders Cape Breton Island and the northeastern coast of Newfoundland. Her father - an alcoholic coal-mining cod fisherman and devout Mormon - is aloof and uncaring, and beats her with a shovel when she comes home late from the library.
Though Nattie speaks in a charming down-homey dialect ("Em d'ere clouds is comin' o'er d'hills, yah!"), her train of thought flows in elegant metaphors and poetic similes. She is like a prairie flower bursting with color, a bright fiery beacon in the bland yellow blur of the prairie landscape. She is blooming. Blooming and opening herself wide, spinning kaleidoscopic thought-poems, rays of prism-light looping like hawks in the sky.
At school, Nattie becomes fascinated by a boy named James (he is of Gaelic descent). His family is poor; they eat nothing but pigeon meat and lobster shells. Though at first Nattie is disgusted by his tattered clothing and devil-may-care attitude, she soon falls in love, and they share an awkward erotic moment in the middle of a grassy field (possibly a hay-strewn barn). Soon after, Nattie learns that she is pregnant. When her drunken father finds out, he chases her out of the house with a shovel.
Nattie flees into the bush. As she runs, her prosaic thought process is reduced to staccato bursts. Because it's so exciting. The running away, exciting. Running. Away. Freedom.
For the next six months, Nattie survives by eating berries, gnawing on birch-bark, and snaring rabbits. She is occasionally assailed by lecherous French trappers or misunderstood First Nations people, but always manages to escape, either by skirting across a frozen river (into which the trappers and Indians inevitably fall), or by hiding in deep drifts of snow (past which the trappers and Indians obliviously stroll).
Eventually, Nattie ends up in the city (Halifax, possibly Vancouver and/or Toronto), where she is taken in by an older woman (of Gaelic descent) whose charming eccentricity is often mistaken for madness by her ignorant neighbors. The woman runs a midwifery service, and delivers babies for poor folk, immigrants, and sympathetic ethnic types who otherwise would be set adrift on ice floes by their abusive husbands and/or heartless local aldermen. While there, Nattie learns some obscure skill that provides her with some measure of distinction (silk-spinning, glass-blowing, hide-tanning...possible alternate book title: The Silk-Blower of Sadness Glen).
Later, while sweeping the floors of a local drinking establishment, Nattie's water breaks. She is attended to by two young patrons who have been poring over a newspaper article about the recent Halifax explosion. They deliver her baby, and, in a surprising twist, turn out to be notable historical figures (possibly famed architect Etienne Gaboury and preeminent pianist and composer Glenn Gould).
Nattie names her baby Courage (because the baby is a metaphor for Nattie's courage).
Soon thereafter, Nattie meets a handsome young academic. They make love in a field somewhere (possibly a tool-shed), and Nattie feels a rapturous compression of muscle, the congress of her physical and emotional tributaries, coming together in a rushing rapids between her tensed legs, her toes pointed like the arrowheads left behind by Canada's proud (and misunderstood) First Nations people.
The handsome young academic, however, is soon lost at sea (or conscripted to fight against the British at the Plains of Abraham...possibly with the British at Vimy Ridge). Nattie receives word that he has been killed, and, devastated, runs out into a winter storm, where she encounters a deafening gale of colorful adjectives that threaten to suffocate her. Here we switch to the point of view of a circling crow: from the bird's detached observations, we understand, finally, the beautiful futility of Nattie's existence.
Flash forward to Toronto/Halifax/Vancouver. The year is 1956. The Suez Crisis and the election of Duff Roblin as premier of Manitoba define the Canadian landscape. Nattie, now a forty-three year-old registered nurse, is treating an elderly man suffering from the effects of long-term alcohol abuse. When he makes an off-handed reference to his appreciation for shovel-beatings, she realizes that he's her father. Nattie decides to forgive him. She senses that, beneath his murderous anger, he loved her all along. His love for her, like a butterfly beating desperately in the heart of a Nor'easterly squall, beating, churning, struggling to stay aflight! Wind blowing. Wings beating. Desperately. Mercifully. Freedom.
Receive cover blurb from Alistair McLeod and/or token Canadian author recently longlisted for Booker Prize.
Get reviewed in Globe and Mail by contemporary who has written eerily similar book and needs money for hip new horn-rimmed glasses. Reviewer somehow manages to summarize the plot entirely in adjectives. Uses the word "haunting" six separate times, breaking the record previously held by Jim Bartley.
Hold reading event at hip Toronto nightspot. Boost street-cred by hiring C-list celebrity of ethnically-diverse background to emcee. Invite CanLit heavyweight to figuratively "pass-the-torch" (also, to literally "eat-the-free-meal"). During question and answer session, respond to inevitable questions of "How did you get your book published?" from throng of bitter, struggling writers without once mentioning previous employment as Alice Munro's pedicurist.
Win award named after deceased CanLit backbencher who may or may not have ever existed (The Janice Shackleton-McKenzie Fiction Prize for Fiction!). Receive $50 and gift certificate for The Keg (Ontario locations only).
Be championed on CBC Radio's "So You Think You CanLit?" by bassist from Glass Tiger. Eventually win when competing novels about turn-of-the-century Fundy Bay dermatologists split the vote.
Book moved to the "Read Canadian!" discount table in back of McChaptigo mega-store, next to scented candles and remaindered copies of William Shatner's Tek War. Available now at 40% off sticker price (50% with iRewards!).
Provide cover blurb for hot new book A Time of Sorrowful Inconveniences (Alistair McLeod not available).
Write self-referential Globe and Mail review for eerily similar novel, The Secrets of Sailing in the Harbour of Grieving Regrets. Refer to it as "a haunting parable that fearlessly documents the fears that haunt us." Use cheque to buy hip horn-rimmed glasses from "Canadian Novelist" section of Lenscrafters.
Cash yearly Canada Arts Council cheque. Repeat as necessary.