Saturday, February 18, 2006

Reader's Diary #36- Joseph Boyden: Three Day Road (FINISHED)

I think when psychologists first mapped out the brain, the whole right brain vs. left brain thingy sent us in the wrong direction. We had begun to see people and disciplines as separate. If you were mathematical you were left-brained, if you were artsy you were right-brained. However, this did the research an injustice and created more division than necessary between people, arts and sciences, etc. It is only recently that people are actually seeing useful applications of the science, that there are still connections between the two hemispheres, and that the connections are what's truly important.

Anyone involved in education in recent years, especially in the lower grades, will have noticed a small revolution in the teaching of mathematics. No longer are age-old practices such as drill, memorization of facts, and repetition the norms. Now the emphasis is on various learning styles, hand-on approaches (through manipulatives) and communication of learning. One of the latest trends I've noticed is math journals. Quite a change from the pages and pages of addition sheets that I was used to as a kid. So what does this have to do with Three-Day Road? Plenty.

After putting this book down today, I realized how many of the symbols employed in this book could be classified as mathematical. I'll start with the obvious, the title. At one point in the novel Xavier reflects with puzzlement about the significance of the number three, both in the Christian world and the non-Christian world from which he was from. What I make of this, and this is most apparent in the title, is the division of our lives into three sections; prelife, life, and afterlife.
Another of the more apparent connections to mathematics is in the references to circles. Niska recounts the story of Xavier's discovery of a grouse mating circle and basically describes the proverbial "circle of life" and our tendency to return to where we come from (a thought clearly illustrated again with Xavier's return to Northern Ontario). I could stretch the math point further but since I'm not even sure if any of this was intentional on Boyden's part, I'll digress except to say that I appreciate the connections in either case.

I also appreciate Boyden's courtesy towards the reader. He seemed very intent on making the reader an interactive part of this book without making him/her do all the work. Very often writer's do all the work for you, beating you over the head with the symbolism you're supposed to see (ex. Frances Itani) or leave it all up to you with frustratingly ambiguous endings (ex. Alice Munro). Boyden plays with symbolism and other devices very often. I especially enjoyed trying to decipher the significance of the Catholic icons, the importance of Elijah cooking the German's shoulder blade, the omen of killing the bear, and the meaning of Elijah's first plane ride. I didn't get a firm grip on any of these but still I appreciate having the opportunity to think them through on my own. (He did spell out one of his points, i.e., crossing the -figurative and literal- line of no return, but this didn't bother me). And while his ending isn't exactly wrapped up in a neat little bow, it is clear enough where the story is headed.

Yes, this was a fantastic story and I would recommend it to anyone.


Robert said...

Obviously you liked it, but how do you see it fitting in to the 'Canada Reads Five' of 2006?

Rebecca said...

I'm just throwing this out without having thought about it carefully yet, but what did you think about the juxtiposition of the modern world and the traditional ways? i.e. When Niska goes into the town to find her lover, then later to get Xavier? Or when Xavier leaves his aunt to go off to war with Elijah? Were these two supposed to represent some kind of forces who pulled the two main characters out of the traditional way of life and imposed modern troubles into their lives?

(Like I said, half-baked theory)

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, Not a half-baked theory at all! But here's what I think...Certainly the two worlds were juxtaposed. Specifically I remember Niska's shock over seeing the car. But was there supposed to be some sort of representation of a "pull" into a modern way of life? I'm not sure. With the exception of Elijah's fascination with the airplane, there didn't seem to be a draw from the "modern ways" themselves. Niska for example, went to town to find Xavier not because she was interested in any "modern" conveniences. But I'm not sure. That's what I love about this book, it gives us a lot to think about but doesn't give us actual answers (much like real life).

Ravenswift said...

I think the journey emphasized in the book was more Xavier's journey home, and not so much the "pull" of the modern world, taking him away from Northern Ontario.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book... and thanks to John for giving us some points to discuss- the result was one of the most in depth meetings we've had (our get togethers usually entail a lot of general chatter!)

John Mutford said...

Glad I was able to be part of your bookclub (even if it was by proxy). Sorry I missed the bannock and rum, though.

John Mutford said...

Just reread this post, several months after the fact, and noticed a few typos. Especially adding in apostrophes where they don't belong. So embarrassing.