Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reader's Diary #427- Steve Zipp: Yellowknife

The book I've dreaded reading this entire year turned out to be one of my favourites. Author Steve Zipp has tied himself inextricably to my Canadian Book Challenge, not only offering his book Yellowknife as a monthly prize, but to pretty much every participant who requested a copy... for free! I'd say it's been a win-win situation for us both. He's gotten loads of reviews (in the first Canadian Book Challenge, 8 people read it, making it the most popular choice), all of which have been positive. And the promise of free books has no doubt helped the popularity of the Canadian Book Challenge, which more than doubled in participants the second time around.

Normally I have no qualms about negatively reviewing a "freebie." My argument has always been, "If you can't handle the truth, don't give me your book." But with Zipp, I feel like we've developed such a great working relationship that I was more than hesitant to throw that away. Believe it or not the good reviews didn't help convince me. Raidergirl's comments seem to be representative of the masses:

There were so many characters it was hard to know what the main story was, or who the main characters were. Once I realized there weren't any, then I just let go and enjoyed whatever part of the story was being told and many of my questions were answered by the end...
Could I be content without a main storyline? Could I live with an overdose of characters? Such issues have taken away from my enjoyment of books in the past (Lisa Moore's Alligator comes to mind). Why would Zipp's book be any different? Perhaps those other reviewers are simply more tolerant than I.

But as author and Canadian Book Challenge participant Corey Redekop points out, there is an "underlying sense of order to the absurdity." Yellowknife is divided into three sections. The first deals primarily with two characters, Danny (a newbie to Yellowknife with a taste for dogfood) and Nora (a houseboat-living biologist engaged to a guy obsessed with mosquitoes). The second deals primarily with Jack Wool (a guy with a thousand get-rich quick schemes swirling in his head, not the least of which is computerized fishing lures) and Freddy (a man who may or may not have been raised by ravens and is now father to a GameBoy-addicted son who can vanish in the blink of an eye). The third not only revisits these four characters but almost all of the minor characters they've met along the way. I often get lost when a cast of characters is too large. It's a testament to Zipp's presentation that I was able to follow along as well as I did.

Of course living in Yellowknife gives the book even more appeal to me. At many points I found myself recalling Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights On Air. Anyone who's read both novels can tell you that Yellowknife looks quite different under the lenses of these two authors. While I enjoyed both, I questioned whose was more accurate. I'd suspect that first-time visitors to the North could probably be convinced it's Zipp's depiction. When we first moved North it seemed so radically different than any Canada we'd ever experienced (and that was Nunavut which makes Yellowknife look like Kansas), that some of Zipp's scenarios wouldn't have seemed out of the question. However, after living North of 60 for going on 7 years now, we've grown more accustomed to life here. Sure there are some idiosyncrasies but quite frankly, the South (remember that even Edmonton is South of here) now seems just as bizarre. For longtimers Hay's somewhat tamer version of Yellowknife probably feels more accurate (except for being set in the 70s).

But there's accuracy and then there's truth. Like a poem, good satire can sometimes reveal that truth. And Yellowknife is great satire. It's funny, energetic, eccentric, and based on more truth than you probably realize.


tanabata said...

I'm looking forward to finally reading this sometime next year.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying the rest of your holiday.

Teddy Rose said...

Boy John, with your review I wish I had requested a copy of the book! I just added it to my TBR.

Anonymous said...

Loved, loved, loved Yellowknife and have been passing it around for people to read. And for those who are interested, I also interviewed Steve Zipp when I posted my review:

Beth F said...

Excellent review! I'll have to consider this one for the ever-growing wish list.

Corey said...

The man is talented, no question.

raidergirl3 said...

I've been quoted!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I can't think of anything more terrifying than reviewing a friend's works. I am more relieved than I should be to hear that it was that good.

John Mutford said...

Tanabata: We did have good Christmas. It's been emotionally up and down for me, but made me all the more appreciative of family.

Teddy: It is available to read for free online.

Christine: I remember reading that interview actually. Good job.

Beth: It might be a little hard to come by (unless Steve sends you a copy or you read it online). You can't buy it at Amazon or Chapters, but it is available at the

Corey: Agreed! Now I need to track down your book.

Raidergirl: Don't celebrate until I plagiarize you.

Barbara: Beyond relieved.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great read - as soon as I finish commenting I am going to see if my local library has a copy. :) You know, because I don't have 200+ other Canadian books to read.

Late Nights on Air was my favourite book from this year - something about the descriptions of the North always stir something powerful in me. When I was a child we went to Tuktoyaktuk and I have always wanted to spend more time "up there".

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of all things "northern", and this book definitely sounds appealing.