Sunday, April 8, 2012

Larry Warwaruk's Bone Coulee

Couple of days ago, I spent close to six hours in a hospital waiting room while my daughter had all four of her wisdom teeth pulled out. It was some great, mostly uninterrupted, reading time for me. (Not so great, for my daughter.)

I got to finish up with Larry Warwaruk's novel Bone Coulee. The book's been nominated for a Saskatchewan Fiction Award. He received the same award back in 1998 with Ukrainian Wedding.

I guess I'm prejudiced to like this book because I lived in Saskatchewan during the 1980s (two of my kids were born there) and I love the place. Didn't start out that way, though. I went there prepared to hate it. But my narrow mind was expanded by that glorious sky, vast fields, and the open-hearted people. Saskatchewan's license plates read, "Land of the Living Skies." It really is a magical place.

But Saskatchewan, like other Canadian places, has a dark past which still muddies the present.
After all, the prairies weren't empty when the Europeans arrived.

Warwaruk's book plays with Saskatchewan's assets: the people, the landscape, the history, even the politics. Reading his book made me want to jump into a car and drive out to the prairie to appreciate the quickly disappearing past.

The buffalo, the farming hamlets, and the grain elevators are all gone. Like the quilts in the book, Warwaruk pieces together parts of the past and creates story. And, in spite of dark moments, he offers healing and hope for the future.

My favorite scene happens right in the middle on page 116.

Angela wakes to the sound of a siren. At first she thinks there must be a fire somewhere. She hurries out of bed to join her mother, who's already at the front room window. It's a fire truck. Sid Rigley drives, holding a megaphone out the side window.

"Get out of bed, Esther! Pancake breakfast in the Lion's Den beer gardens."

"He wakes up the town?" Roseanna says.

The siren sounds a second time.

"How about you people?" Sid's voice blares from the megaphone. "Pancake breakfast! Sausage! Eggs! Hash browns! We've even got Kwok Ming at the grill."

Warwaruk's novel captures that small town feeling. It's all there - the First Nations, the East Europeans, the Chinese restaurant. Everyone trying in their own way to survive. Recommended reading for all prairie folk - and those who wish they were.

1 comment:

Jodi Carmichael said...

Now I really want to read this one!
Thanks for the review!