Je me souviens
Noah Richler’s “My Dad, the Movie, and Me” (October) was a wonderful article. I am an old soldier who was once good friends with a native of Montreal, a Jewish boy who happened to be a drummer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders pipe band during World War II. One weekend, he took me to his hometown on a pass from Toronto, where we were stationed. There his father and brother were the proprietors of a ladies’ clothing establishment, complete with models — I was overwhelmed by all that feminine pulchritude up close. We later took a trip out to the country to Black Horse Breweries, where you could sit in a beautiful lounge drinking quart bottles of Black Horse Ale as magnificent dray horses paraded past. I always felt it must have been a great place to grow up.
For the first time in my life, I’ve purchased a magazine because of the celebrity on the cover: Mordecai Richler, on The Walrus magazine.
In Canada, we tend to get a little defensive when Americans scrutinize our national treasures (rare as that is), and since I idolize Margaret Atwood the same way some of my contemporaries do Lady Gaga, I approached J. Robert Lennon’s “Exquisite Amusements” (October) with a healthy dose of skepticism. I was impressed, mostly.
What didn’t impress me I attribute to national differences: Lennon writes of how he, and many other Americans, discovered Atwood through The Handmaid’s Tale — her “Big Book” — and although I would never argue against Handmaid’s merits, I think of The Edible Woman as Atwood’s seminal work. It’s a Canadian thing.
The Edible Woman lacks the grandiosity of The Handmaid’s Tale — the themes of dystopia and conspiracy that tend to appeal to Americans — but it offers monumental insights into sexual politics and human emotion on a smaller topical scale. The book contains plenty of “secrets, pain, and things going too far,” Atwood’s main themes, in Lennon’s view, but in a way that better suits a Canadian audience. We are a small country with boring politics, and we tend to believe that it’s best to keep things to ourselves. The Edible Woman appeals to this sensibility because it takes place in the personal sphere: Marian’s travails are internal, and the book takes place in her world.
Despite its subject matter, however, the book is shocking and bold — and this fearlessness is why Atwood’s canon, beyond The Handmaid’s Tale, still appeals to the American readers Lennon speaks for.
Daniel R. Wilson
After reading @MargaretAtwood’s profile in @walrusmagazine, I really, really want to reread Oryx and Crake for the dozenth time.
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE
I am very fortunate to be one of the “few Canadians [who] ever see firsthand,” as Chris Wood writes in “The Last Great Water Fight” (October), the beauty of the Mackenzie River. Last summer, I drove from Taylor, BC, on the Peace River — a few kilometres downstream from the proposed Site C dam — to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. From there, I flew to Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea.
Along the way, I crossed or followed the Fort Nelson, Liard, Ogilvie, Peel, and Arctic Red rivers, plus countless smaller rivers and creeks, all of them tributaries of the Mackenzie. I grew up on the West Coast and always thought the Fraser River was big, but what I saw made it seem petite. Each river was full of driftwood: trees, branches, roots. I learned from a native elder that the Inuvialuit of the delta used to trade the driftwood with northern First Nations who lived above the treeline and had no other source of wood fuel.
Two things most of us in the south take for granted: water and wood. Both flow from Taylor to Tuktoyaktuk, and I hope they will for a long time to come. But who knows what will happen without our protection of the Mackenzie watershed?
Thanks for an intelligent and objective look at a subject that some people revile (“The Trapline,” October). Harvesting nature’s surplus is the first step in the sustainable management of natural resources, and it fosters a pragmatic approach to the world around us, rather than a utopian fantasy. No wonder Canada’s trapping community prefers being out of the limelight and in the wilderness, where life is very real.
I have read some bad writing about Wyndham Lewis over the years, but “Self Condemned” (October) is one of the most malign and unbalanced pieces I have encountered. Hammond takes every opportunity to slander Lewis, from his careful selection of “facts” and stories, to the — I admit, clever — use of adjectives: “treasonous” and, in one of the most malicious put-downs I have ever read, “vile.”
Where is Paul Martin’s remark that Lewis “was perhaps more sophisticated and learned than many of us realized”? Where is the account of Lewis’s affection for the staff at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario, and particularly for Father J. Stanley Murphy? Where is the acknowledgement that he made many fine portraits while in Canada? Why is A. Y. Jackson’s affection and support for Lewis diminished?
Alan Munton (online)
Why so touchy? Surely readers are more, not less likely to read Lewis because of this article. It makes a big pro-Lewis claim: that despite his reputation as a fascist, misogynist, racist, and homophobe (a reputation that, as Alan Munton knows better than anyone, grossly distorts his actual views), Wyndham Lewis exerted a cultural influence in Canada that helped turn it into a multiracial, tolerant, and vibrant place.
If Mr. Hammond has offended just about everyone with this article, he’s only following the glorious example of his subject.
Paul Edwards (online)