I’ve only recently finished reading Joseph Boyden’s novels, Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce and The Orenda. They are startling works in many ways but one of the things that most surprised me was that some of his characters manifest almost exactly the same strange behaviours as one of my protagonists in my (first) novel Red Jacket, due out from Thomas Allen Publishers on 28 February, 2015. This weirdness (we’ll call it that for lack of a better word) is not something that I’d encountered in fiction, or in psychological or paranormal literature. I’d made it up, marrying physical and psychological disruptions in a way that interested me. But here it was, or something mighty close, in Joseph Boyden’s books.
In 1995, the now defunct and much lamented, Sister Vision Press published my second collection of poetry, de man: a performance poem. Sister Vision was a small small-press, with limited resources for promotion, and so, despite a couple of excellent reviews, de man pretty much sank without even the tiniest trail of bubbles, or so it
seemed. It didn’t start coming into its own till ten years later (though, unknown to me, it was being taught in university curricula in the US and Canada) when a new spate of readings began – Toronto, Calgary where it was performed three times, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, Newfoundland in 2012, and Kitchener, ON, earlier this year. At one of the readings in Calgary, someone asked me whether the book had been influenced by “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s raw retelling of Jesus’s crucifixion. I pointed out that I’d never seen the movie, but, more important, “The Passion of the Christ” had appeared in 2004, nine years after the publication of de man.
It’s as natural that people look for influences, discover themes and threads and tropes, as it is that they should go rabbiting after the new and novel, characteristics that an old head will be forgiven for looking at with slightly jaundiced eyes. I’ve been writing Red Jacket, formerly Cipher, and for a while Writing Home, since at least 2001. I’m away from home at present so I haven’t got my desktop Mac with the history of all the files (a hundred or so, at least!) to date it exactly, but I did get an OAC Works in Progress award for it in 2002, so it certainly existed then, complete with handsome-hero-with-weird powers.
Not that I think there’s anything wrong with borrowing, since writers do it all the time and most of us admit that we do tief good stuff that’s there to be taken, for there is indeed nothing new under the sun. However in a time when there’s such a huge investment in novelty, I want to say, for the record, that, as far as the weirdness goes, I got there by myself, insofar as any writer does that. What is more interesting to me is that Mr Boyden and I so nearly share interests and intuitions about these behaviours, though we come from different traditions, heritages and histories.
At least, so it seemed, till I started thinking a bit more about the matter. Now I see resemblances that didn’t appear right at the start. We are both mixed blood people, and therefore our collective unconscious derives from more than one place, though I am rather more mixed, and so mixed up in that well of unknowing, than he. Roman Catholics raised us both, a heritage that informs his The Orenda and my Red Jacket profoundly. Names are numinous for both of us, and we both undertake to tell stories with aspects that are very ugly.
Perhaps I’ll meet Joseph Boyden some time, and get a chance to talk about all this. I’d like that.