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The March Hare - Friday 2 March 2018 8 pm at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

The Poetry of Hockey, The Music of Newfoundland - The March Hare Part 1

Music and Hockey are two words that perhaps do not seem to go together – except in Parry Sound! On Friday 2 March, at the Charles W. Stockey Centre, beginning at 8 pm The March Hare returns to Parry Sound, presenting an evening of words and music from Newfoundland.

Poet Randall Maggs will read from his poetry collection Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, re-issued this year by Brick Books in a 10th anniversary edition.

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Terry Sawchuk was a goaltender who played for a number of NHL teams in the 1950s and 1960s. His life was one of great achievement and great difficulty, a rough life by any standard. Dying at the age of only 40 years old in 1970, Sawchuk is remembered as one of the great goalies of all time.

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Randall Maggs exquisite book of poems and photographs provides an intimate look at the man and the hockey player, as well as others of his era.

Joining his father-in-law on stage will be musician Casey Laforet, a founding member and songwriter of the Hamilton based band Elliott Brood. Formed in 2002, their brand of fuzzed-up roots music makes for a captivating and frenetic live performance. Their style has been called everything from ‘blackgrass’ to ‘death country,’ but those descriptions don’t capture the transcendent heights of their unique approach to roots music.

Anita Best and Sandy Morris are two of the most well known and respected musicians in Newfoundland. They have been playing together for 51 years, their first gig at a friend’s wedding. But, until now have not recorded together except as members of the band Bristol’s Hope on a recording made in 1997 for the Cabot 500 Celebrations.

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Anita Best is one of Newfoundland’s most talented traditional singers, and has been collecting songs and stories, celebrating Newfoundland’s tradition all of her long career. Sandy Morris is a guitarist who has worked with hundreds of musicians, including one of the original incarnations of Figgy Duff, and one of few who has been able to make a living exclusively as a musician.

Anita and Sandy will perform pieces from their new CD, a collection of their own arrangements of traditional music as well as work by Ron Hynes and other Newfoundland songwriters.

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Joining the crowd from Newfoundland is Douglas Cameron, part-time Parry Sounder, and a musician who has recorded several albums of original songs including his most recent, Riverdale.  A two time Juno nominee, Douglas has been composing and performing in Canada for over four decades.

 

In collaboration with David Macfarlane, Cameron co-created The Door You Came In, a two-man performance of music and text performed throughout Newfoundland and across Canada.

Stephanie Mckenzie, is not only a poet, but also an editor and publisher, and English Department Chair at Memorial University in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Toronto.

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In addition to her academic and literary work, Stephanie McKenzie is also the Artistic Director of The March Hare.

The March Hare in Parry Sound will also feature Stan Dragland, Kathleen Winter, and Pamela Morgan.

This celebration of poetry and music began in Newfoundland over 30 years ago, the tradition continuing on the Stockey Centre stage here in Parry Sound, and in New York, Toronto and, of course, across Newfoundland.

 

Our Lady of the Prairie by Thisbe Nissen

Iowa, the American Mid-west, rolling hills and cornfields, Amish and Mennonite farmers, and the setting of Thisbe Nissen’s new novel Our Lady of the Prairie.

Thisbe Nissen in an American author, in her mid 40s, she had two earlier novels, Osprey Island and The Good People of New York, published to much acclaim, and now Our Lady of the Prairie. When this book arrived in the store it went to the top of my “to read” pile and I read it over two days, not wanting to put it down for a moment except to catch my breath – to take a break from the emotional intensity.

This is the story of Phillipa Maakestad, her husband of 25 years, Michael, her adult daughter, Ginny – and Phillipa’s lover, Lucius. And Michael’s mother, Bernadette. Along with a great cast of secondary characters, friends and acquaintances, who enrich the lives of the Maakestad family and delight the reader.

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It is 2004, but in many ways it could be America 2018. George W is president and he is running for a second term. This past year Canadians have been watching a great deal more American news than usual, and we have become well aware that political loyalty makes for a deeply divided America. There is a scene in this novel of the night of George W’s re-election that might have seemed completely over the top before the Trump election – but it is entirely believable now.

Woven into the story of a passionate affair, the unraveling of a long marriage, and the deeply complicated relationship between a mother and her adult daughter, is a portrait of one small part of America and what one affluent woman discovers when she spends time in a small village during a year of personal and political upheaval. 

Phillipa, I thought, was a great character. Immature in many ways, but honest and passionate, and caring. When she embarks on this affair she knows that she is crossing a line, one that she may regret, but she does it. She loves Lucius; she wants a future with him. But, the reality is she has a husband to whom she has been married a long time, they have, together, managed to bring their very troubled daughter to adulthood, and now should be the time they enjoy less responsibility and more time together. Some way into the story Phillipa says to herself “my old life seemed to live just on the other side of a flimsy screen door” and we can see how she could open – or close – that door and simply step back into her old life – or not.

Our Lady of the Prairie is a novel I bet you will not want to put down once you’ve started reading, this writer’s imagining of events in the past are as wonderful as the present day story. And, I bet you will cry, for Phillipa, her daughter, her husband – and perhaps for yourself.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

“She was surrounded by men and women who’d been born in Africa, or born in chains, who had freed themselves or escaped. Branded, beaten, raped. Now they were here. They were free and black and stewards of their own fate.”

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This sentence comes late in the novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Released in paperback this week, this book won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for the 47-year-old author.

Described by some as a work of magical realism The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, born into slavery, and her journey to freedom. But, it is very clear that there is really no escaping slavery. In America the past is so very present, even now, as most African Americans have slave ancestors.

The Underground Railroad is a novel that presents much of what one expects, descriptions of life on a cotton plantation, the cruelty of the white slave owners, the suffering of the slaves, but, also, much more that is unexpected as the story unfolds. There is reality here – and there is something more, at times so plausible you’ll wonder what is fact and what is fiction – the complete unlikeliness of some events seeming so very possible. The image of the Underground Railroad as being an actual thing is at once fantastical and a literary device returned to again and again as the story moves forward. A museum display about slavery is not as absurd as one might think, considering that Inuit were brought from the north to New York in 1896 for display.

This is a novel with a full cast of intriguing characters, apart from the slaves and the free men, and those who helped them. There are also the “resurrection men” and a fascinating scene with these grave digging body snatchers at work. And, there are the men who made their living capturing runaway slaves and returning them to their owners for reward – a profitable job.

Always at the centre of the novel is the slave Cora, and the story of her young life on a cotton plantation. We learn about Cora’s mother, Mabel, who ran for freedom leaving her daughter behind, and the story of Cora’s grandmother, Ajarry, who had been kidnapped in Africa. And, we follow Cora’s run, her own attempt at freedom.

Author Colson Whitehead grew up in affluence, in Manhattan. Educated at Harvard, he worked as a journalist and was a well-established author before the publication of The Underground Railroad. Though he knew nothing of his own ancestors, his research for this novel included reading books about slavery, including first hand accounts written in the 1930s by former slaves.

 

BIRDS IN FALL BY BRAD KESSLER - AGAIN

Turning 30 is a sobering event. For my generation anyone over 30 was considered “the establishment”. Then somehow I was 30 myself, with kids and a mortgage, and a station wagon and a cottage. That was about when my husband and I began to think about where we wanted to be by the time we were 60.

We decided to pack up city life and move to Parry Sound, the town closest to the cottage, and open a book store. Crazy as it seems now it was a good move – as long as we don’t think about what we could sell our Toronto home for now if we’d kept it!

And, now we are well past 60, and the business is 30 years old. Which got me thinking about all of the great books I’ve read and recommended over those years. I have decided to re-read some of my favourite books, beginning with Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler. I was listening to an interview on CBC radio between a reporter and an ornithologist, and she mentioned that she had just come home from a research trip on a boat off Nova Scotia – a boat that was involved in the recovery efforts after the crash of a Swiss Air flight in 1998 near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. An event that inspired Brad Kessler to write Birds in Fall.

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Published in 2006 Birds in Fall tells the story of some of the victims of a plane crash, and of some of the family members who come to the site of the crash to mourn.

The novel opens with the scene of passengers in a plane, taking off from New York City, bound for Amsterdam. Settling into a long flight, thinking of all sorts of things. Perhaps chatting with the person in the next seat. Then, it becomes obvious to the passengers – and the reader – that there is something seriously wrong with this airplane.

Along with Kevin Gearns we see the airplane fall into the sea, into the water off a small island in Nova Scotia. A horrifying sight. Kevin, and his partner, Douglas, own a small inn on the island. It is fall, and they are about to close for the season, but the crash of this plane forces a change in plan.

The inn is booked by the Red Cross as a place for family members to stay when they arrive, and the story continues with the interweaving of the lives of the family members, and their hosts. One of the characters is an ornithologist, and there is a lovely association woven into the story of the victims, the family members and the fragility of bird life.

I loved reading this book again just as much now as I did in the fall of 2007.

You can search the review index for Birds in Fall on our website to read the earlier review, and you’ll know why I still recommend this book to anyone who has not yet read it.

A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd

I have been slowly reading my way through a long series of mystery novels by Charles Todd, reading these books in between more serious novels they are simply rest and relaxation. The first novel in the series A Test of Wills introduced us to a very war damaged and haunted Scotland Yard detective, Ian Rutledge. All of the books that followed continued with the same character, and with each new case time passes, always moving forward.

The 17th in the series A Fine Summer’s Day is a departure from the others, as this one takes us back beyond the first in the series to a time just before the beginning of the First World War. We meet a very different Ian Rutledge. He is a young detective, living with his sister, Frances, in the family home. They have a wide circle of family friends and active social lives.

The novel begins with Ian’s proposal to Jean Gordon, a young woman he loves and looks forward to spending his life with, though some of his closest friends think her rather shallow. It should be a time of optimism for all but for the rumblings of unrest in Europe, and as the summer progresses it becomes more and more likely that England will be at war with Germany. We know, of course that this is to come. The war that many say will be over by Christmas, and again we know it will not be. And we also know this war will result in so many deaths and so many men damaged by their experience of war, as Ian Rutledge will be.

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I found the investigation almost secondary to the lives of the characters in this particular book. Some of you will know that Charles Todd also writes another series of mystery novels featuring a young woman who is a nurse in the First World War, Bess Crawford. In this novel we will learn that Ian’s great friend, Melinda Crawford is an aunt to Bess, and there is mention of a man who is an important character in the Bess Crawford series.

The investigation in A Fine Summer’s Day begins with a death that may or may not be suicide. When other deaths follow, though there seems to be no connection, there are too many similarities to discount some sort of a link between these men. Of course, as usual, the case is eventually solved, but this time we see Ian Rutledge off to war instead of back to the Yard for his next assignment.

The First World War will not be over for 5 long years, and life will have changed for all of the men who fought, and all of the women who stayed at home. Ian is only 23 years old, his sister slightly younger in this novel. For those of us who have been reading this series for several years A Fine Summer’s Day gives us more understanding of the world that was lost to this generation and fills in a little more of the past for many of the supporting characters in this popular series.

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