Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reader's Diary #280- Kevin Patterson: Consumption (up to ch. 15)

"One of the most refreshing features of this story is the lack of social commentary buried in the plot, despite the plethora of opportunity to inspire guilt or expose historical wrongdoing." -Andy Johnson,

I have to question if Andy Johnson even read this book. While it's is true that Patterson doesn't come out and share his thoughts and opinions directly, if one is looking for buried commentary there are ample doses. And it should come as no shock that most of it follows the predictable line set down by James Houston: white man bad.

I have to offer some rebuttal to a few of the snide remarks, especially since a great deal seems lobbied at teachers, apparently the scourge of the North. I'm not going to lie and say that all teachers are saints. In fact, research a little about residential schools and you'll see where a lot of the ill will comes from. However, I take great exception to many of the comments thrown out in Patterson's book. First of all, I've heard the complaint that many Southern teachers come North for the money. It was a draw for myself, I won't lie. But I also came for the adventure, the experience of a new culture, to see a part of the country relatively few come to see. Never though have I been informed that that's also a sign of selfishness. In a paraphrase of Kennedy's old "ask not what your country can do for you" speech, I'm told that I'm "more interested in how the place can have an effect on [me]" than having an effect of my own. As if things need to be that black or white, as if they have to be exclusive from one another. Couldn't a person travel here for money and for adventure and want to have a lasting impression on the place and its people? Sure there are those that come solely for the money, but at least acknowledge there of those of us who don't. Can't I seek adventure while also trying to help out?

To be fair to Patterson, these comments are spoken through characters. He could argue (safely) that he was just trying to show accurate opinions of people here. I wouldn't doubt that there are those that share the sentiment expressed above. But there are just SO many remarks in the book, all along the same theme, that's it's hard not to become suspicious of Patterson himself of using the novel as a cowardly mouthpiece. If that is the case, I also have a problem with the hypocrisy. In a couple instances in particular Inuktitut becomes the contentious issue. Teachers are again criticized for not bothering to learn the language (by the way, I've just finished my third Inuktitut course and let me just say, it's not an easy language to just pick up!) A better example, however, might be when Emo begins working at the mine; Mr. Johnson (the white foreman) takes down his name, "making up his own English spelling and shortening it." Of course, the not-so-subtle message is that evil white man Mr. Johnson doesn't care about the lowly Inuk. Fine, fine. I agree that such an action would be more than insensitive and probably racist. But uninformed readers should also note that Patterson himself does a HORRIBLE job with the language. "Koyenamee" is the way, for example, that he spells the Inuktitut word for "thank-you." Now consider this syllabics chart for the speech sounds used the Inuktitut language (by the way, the syllabics charts are given away as bookmarks up here and I found this one in two seconds on the Internet):

Look for the letters o, y, and e. Patterson, it seems, chose to spell the few Inuktitut words in the book phonetically- for English speakers. Would he expect most readers to pick up on this? Probably not, aimed no doubt at a Southern audience who innocently sits back shaking their heads at mean old Mr. Johnson who dares to Anglicize the Inuktitut language.

The overall effect is that I'm too frustrated to even care about the story itself. I hope it gets better -and less preachy- soon.


Melwyk said...

Hmm, I was thinking of this one as another Arctic read. Should I bother? It sounds a bit frustrating, as you say.

Imani said...

I had similar feelings about Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards. The members of the academia are tagged wholesale as selfish, ignorant, pretentious, unsympathetic blowhards who don't know the first thing about the Atlantic provinces they're trying to improve.

I have no doubt that there are professors and "experts" like that, but I felt it unfair that he gave a nuanced treatment to the locals of whatever economic class (they're not hailed as saints) but couldn't bother doing that for anyone else.

It didn't kill the book but it's a nagging flaw.

John Mutford said...

Melanie: Well, I'm only halfway through. He's got a lot of time to improve, but at the very least the first half sucked.

Imani: I haven't read that one, but yes it sounds similar.

Dewey said...

Hmm, this sounds pretty offensive. It's almost laughable to me (though maybe things are different in Canada?) to even bring up money as a motive for teaching. Even the best-paid of us could make far more doing something else. It seems obvious, considering the downright insulting rate of pay, that nearly all of us do it for less tangible rewards.

John Mutford said...

Dewey: I've heard that about American teachers' pay. Actually in most of Canada I think we're reasonably well paid- especially after a few years experience under one's belt. In the Arctic teachers are paid very well- though the cost of living is quite high as well and with housing costs going up, things aren't as good as they use to be. Still, I'd feel like a heel if I said a teacher couldn't earn a comfortable living here.

Dewey said...

Well, that's good to hear! Yet another thing we need to learn from our northern neighbors. I understand the cost of living aspect, too, because although my district is the highest paying in my state, we're one of the highest cost of living areas in the whole country, so, well, all I can say is thank god my husband chose a more lucrative field than I did!

John Mutford said...

What's even worse about his treatment of Inuktitut is the inconsistencies. In some spots, for instance, the Inuktitut word for "how are you?" is spelled "Kahnaweepie" and in others, "Qanuipiit." At least the latter uses the correct letters (if one was to spell it out with roman orthography instead of syllabics), but it's like he made only a half-ditched effort to go back and change some spellings to have them more authentic, like he didn't know how to use the "find & replace" feature on his word processor. I looked and looked for a stylistic reason. In Cormac's "The Road" for example, some people felt he was inconsitent with the apostrophe- but it turned out he was selectively removing them from only the negative contractions. Did Patterson have any valid reasons? Perhaps white people had their attempts at Inuktitut spelled incorrectly to show their inability to master the pronunciation? Sadly, no. I could not find any rational reasons and most of this comes down to editing. I guess we shouldn't expect much better considering it was done by none other than Nan Talese, the same red pen behind James Frey's A Million Little Pieces."

Wanda said...

OK, I know I just left a lengthy comment on part 2 of this review but I had to add my two cents in here as well. Reading your opening quote and remarks, I had to dig the book out and look for that blurb. It isn't there, thank goodness, as it only would have served to make this book a laughing stock!

Consumption is a social commentary and Patterson does take ample opportunity to inspire guilt! Why the heck did Andy Johnson think that "unpublished" manuscript (as unnecessary as it was to get the point across) was titled, "The Diseases of Affluence"?! As I would have said in the '80's, Puh..LEASE!

Yes, I can certainly see why you feel "too close to this book to enjoy it". I don't share the personal connection in local or vocation that lends weight to your pov concerning Consumption. Though it had it's rough spots (more that you would recognize), I'm still glad to have read it.

Whew, and that concludes this edition of "Keep those conversations happening"! :)