This Is My Country, What's Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada

This Is My Country, What's Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada

by Noah Richler

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781551994178
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Publication date: 05/18/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 496
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Noah Richler made documentaries and features for BBC Radio for fourteen years before returning to Canada in 1998. He was the books editor and then the literary columnist for the National Post, and has contributed to numerous publications in Britain, including the Guardian, Punch, the Daily Telegraph, and in Canada to The Walrus, Maisonneuve, Saturday Night, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail. A Literary Atlas of Canada is his first book. He lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

Knowing too much about writers and their lives, about who they are and who their friends are, can get in the way of a story that is fiction, after all, if only because the events in it have been edited and selectively arranged. Even doing only that takes skill. Do it well enough and fiction can seem like fact again, with the result that readers and friends sometimes confuse characters with people whom they know. Even writers and their families are not immune to making such mistakes themselves, but it was a surprise to learn that this category of error had been made by the luminaries of Burning Rock.

At a Larry Mathews class that I attended at Memorial, Lisa Moore had been the invited guest.

"In my first collection of stories," Moore told the table of graduate students, "there’s a story of a woman who is pregnant, and while she’s pregnant, her husband has an affair. Michael Winter is a very good friend of mine and because he lived here at that time I would speak to him every day on the telephone. Often we exchanged pages, sent them back and forth — not by email, because he lived just up the street. I would send him four or five pages, and he would send four or five pages down. So we were in very close contact, but somehow Michael hadn’t read this one story of mine that won an award. I had moved to Toronto, and Michael had to phone me and tell me that I’d won. Now I don’t know why he was the person that was phoning me, but he sounded completely depressed and I thought, 'What’s wrong? I won an award. Come on.' Finally he said to me in a grave voice, 'Lisa, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know that Steve had an affair when you were giving birth' — and I was completely stunned because my husband hadn’t had an affair — at least not that I know of."

There was a collective groan from the students.

"Many of the images in the story of how the birth happened were true," she said. "Those physical details were so vivid and so dramatic and so fresh that they worked perfectly. But then when I was writing it, I thought that there needed to be more tension there. Something bad had to happen. As a writer, what you need to do is to take characters and put them in moral situations that the reader can sympathize with and understand — and then you have to make the worst possible thing happen. So it wasn’t enough that this woman nearly died in childbirth. 'What could be worse?' I asked. 'Could it be worse?' And yes, I decided it could have been. Her husband could have had an affair — and Michael, who actually writes fiction and who is completely aware of how a writer takes details that are absolutely true and then changes them, believed the story so much that he was hardly able to speak to me about it. My husband was actually the one who answered the phone in Toronto and he looked baffled and said that Michael had been rude to him and that he hadn’t said hello or goodbye or anything. So Steve said to me, 'What’s going on?' And then when I told him, Steve said that he would definitely be having an affair if I ever got pregnant again because many people were asking him about it and wanted to know if the story was true."

"And how did you feel about your story after that?" a student had asked.

"I think all the fuss indicated that it was damn successful — for me," said Moore, laughing. "But it wasn’t so good for Steve."

* * *

"I never thought that for a second," said Winter.

"Michael!" said Moore, "what are you saying?"

"No," said Winter. " This was somebody else who said that to you, and you’ve applied it to me — just like the time when I made you a Bruce Springsteen cassette tape, and there was room to spare, so I put some Otis Redding on the end of it. About five years later I was in the back of your car with you and Steve, and the cassette was playing and at the end of it Otis Redding came on. You turned around and you said, 'Isn’t it great?' And I said, 'Yeah, it’s good, it’s really good,' and you said, 'This is the guy that Springsteen discovered in New Jersey. He had room on the end of his lp, and so he put this unknown guy on the end. Isn’t it amazing he did this?' My jaw was dropping! I couldn’t believe it! I’d made the cassette for you!"

The bartender looked up as everybody at the table roared — except for Moore, who looked positively demure.

"That’s an interesting story, Michael," she said, "but it has nothing to do with what really happ —"

"It just goes to show how you fabricate," said Winter. "How you make interesting stories out of completely bogus details —"

"Or how Michael does," said Moore. "Why believe Michael over me? Guys?"

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