Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reader's Diary #273- Jack Houston: Whiteout (up to Ch. 11)

I was just wrapping up a four year teaching stint in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut when James Houston died. It was all over the local media and to my surprise, the national media as well. My surprise should have been my embarrassment I guess. Bad, bad Canadian that I was, I had no idea who he even was, let alone his significance.

Anyway, two years later I'm trying to remedy that by reading his young adult novel, Whiteout. So far it's a pleasant enough read but I have my doubts that it will be great.

I am mildly concerned about southerners reading it and taking it as an accurate portrayal of today's north. Just today I commented over at Litminds that Annie Proulx's Shipping News may have been an okay tale, but I certainly didn't feel it was an accurate portrayal of Newfoundland or its people. However, Houston had actually lived in the Arctic unlike Proulx who claimed to know the island after making "nine trips" with her notebook in tow. Not only that, but Houston lived in the North from 48 to 82, far longer than I have or most likely ever will. The question is not that Houston's book, in terms of the people and setting anyway (I'll get to the plot later), wasn't plausible at one time, it's that I think it's a rather dated version of the North. While I'm sure plenty people would be shocked at life in the North, I think a lot of that would come from how rapidly things are changing here. Still, if anyone south of 60 does read this book today and think they fully understand life here, the problem lies with them, not with Houston.

My major concern is with the plot. While it's one that I'm sure would appeal to the audience at which it is aimed, the classic troubled youth finds himself story, there are some far-fetched and cliched elements that turned me off initially. Jon, the protagonist, seemed to be squandering his talents as a gifted pianist by hanging out with a bunch of no-goodigans (my word, not Houston's), even getting himself a drug charge. Tut-tut-tut. Jon's father, who has passed away, has left him a whack of money. But there's a catch, of course. The money is to be given to him at the discretion of his mother and uncle upon his 21st birthday if he's proven himself mature and worthy. If not, the money will remain in a trust until he turns 40. Bummer. The uncle, as it happens, lives in the fictional Northern town of Nanuvik, the perfect place according to Jon's mother, to work off his community service.

Still, once I got past the premise (a pretty major hurdle), the story hasn't been bad. I'm intrigued at the uncle's abrasive exterior and curious as to what makes him tick. Following that, I'm curious to know how Jon will eventually win him over (though I have little doubt that he will).


Allison said...

Guess I'm a bad Canadian, I've never heard of him before. Book sounds interesting though.

As for the Shipping News, I tried really hard to enjoy the novel but I just found it boring. Glad to know its not a correct portrayal.

John Mutford said...

Allison, glad I wasn't the only one.

Yes, the inaccuracies of the Shipping News later made me question if there ever were gay cowboys.