The New Press Canadian Classics was General Publishing’s answer to the New Canadian Library. I began collecting the NCL as a gateway into Canadian literature generally, so I have no qualms with picking up and reading their competition as well. I recommend this sadly abandoned NCL collecting blog for details on both of these imprints.
I remarked last time that after two trips to Montreal, albeit separated by 200 years, a visit to the prairies would be a nice change of pace. Upon approaching my expanding shelf of CanLit I was impressed by a quote from the back cover of I Do Remember the Fall.
“… the most appalling picture of a Saskatchewan small town I have ever read, and deeply depressing with its joyless drinking and certain loveless fornication that is more than redeemed by a great and touching tenderness.” – John Glassco
Randy Gogarty is a young man in his late twenties, but already washed up as a journalist. Blacklisted after his previous job in Toronto he manages to land a job writing for small local newspaper in Elk Brain, Saskatchewan. After his arrival by train we are introduced to his coworkers, the town of Elk Brain itself, and whispers of an upcoming strike. When the prophesied strike finally comes Randy walks off the job in solidarity, with assurances from management that it won’t cost him his job. The novel follows his efforts to survive in Elk Brain, including his misadventures with coworkers, a woman named Laurie, and the ongoing strike. I enjoyed this book too much to let on anything more than I have.
I Do Remember the Fall is a book defined not so much by any events as tone; the Glassco quote which graces the back cover is instructive. The novel is pervaded by a gloom and drudgery, punctuated by moments of insight within Randy’s narration. The portrait of prairie life is at once depressing in its frequent meaninglessness, but sympathetic to the people who struggle through it anyway. There is something pedestrian about many of the scenes Randy finds himself in, but M.T. Kelly mines them for a lot of pathos. Of the three Canadian novels covered so far here I Do Remember the Fall is the best, and we’ll see if it can retain that title going forward.
Since I discussed The Alley Cat just recently, I’ll conclude with a little comparison. Now, I Do Remember the Fall and The Alley Cat are very different sorts of books. The former is a more grounded tale with painfully human characters, and the latter is full of Dickensian exaggeration and farce. Yet the protagonists Florent and Randy are both about the same age, and have similarly flawed personalities. Why then is Randy much more sympathetic than Florent? Keep in mind our introduction to Florent is his helping an injured stranger on the street, while Randy is introduced attempting to hit on a disinterested passenger. A lot of the difference boils down to Randy’s humanity. Although he often comes across as selfish or conceited his narration succeeds in making otherwise insignificant annoyances and frustrations relatable. The reality of Randy’s circumstances – in contrast to Florent’s exaggerated Montreal – also makes it easier to sympathize with his plight. The reader is more likely to have attended an awkward work party than have been blackmailed by an eastern European man who speaks in riddles and tricked you into buying a restaurant.
I Do Remember the Fall comes highly recommended, and I look forward to reading more of T.M. Kelly’s work. Next time we venture back into non-fiction with a biography of the author who directed me towards Kelly in the first place.