Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reader's Diary #770- David Adams Richards: For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down

It was back in August that I revealed the 20 glaring omissions in my Canadian reading and I've finally knocked it down to 19. I hope I'll be able to express my feelings towards those 19 better than this one.

In some ways For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down is very typically Canadian. It's set in rural Canada, it's depressing as all hell, and lacking any trace of humour. Is a bleak style better than no style? I guess.

But in another way, it's different from a lot of Canadian writing of which it shares its sense of melancholy. Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence-- none of these women write with as much sparseness as Richards. His sentences are short and blunt. It seems to fit the feel of the book. And again, I can't really say if that's a good thing or not.

One of the wounded being hunted down, and the most important person at that, is Jerry Bines. He's just been acquitted of a murder and returns home to a Miramichi, New Brunswick mill town. He's under a microscope, he's feared, he's idolized. He's also quite misunderstood, arguably even by himself.

This is one of the rare cases where I found the blurbs on the back cover essential to my interest and understanding of the book. In particular, quotes from the Canadian Forum ("Invested with a passion and acuity that strip away false fronts of smug misunderstanding and ideological or moral comfort...") and Whig-Standard, Kingston ("Richards wants us to avoid easy explanations, the ones that separate us from 'the wounded' and just explain them away.") helped me focus on particular characters and their motivations.

Recently a friend of mine remarked that we're not meant to understand serial killers, pedophiles, and the like. Not understanding is what separates us from them. I've had that thought before, and I found myself nodding in agreement. But I have to admit, like the quotes above suggested, there's a certain comfort in that thought. I can't understand it, therefore I'm a better person and I move on. The characters in For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down are not content to settle for enigmas, they draw quick, black and white conclusions. If David Adams Richards is able to challenge both us types in a single go-- those content not to understand and those who mistakenly believe they do-- then great. Who doesn't love a challenging book?

The catch to that is a book that smacks of cynicism. Everyone's wrong? I'm not saying a book needs to be comforting (it's not Chicken Soup For The Souls of Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down), but I had to fight the feeling that I was having a finger wagged in my face. My hope is that what Richards was really was saying was this: it's true that we can't hunt the wounded down, we can't explain away their ills, but it's important to try, and really try, anyway. Our futile attempts keep us human.

Then, I could be way off.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I recall being horribly depressed by this book. I wouldn't want to revisit it.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: And can you believe the publishers actually referred to it as a "devastating and comic novel"? Comic?! Not even while having my feet tickled.

Shonna said...

This has been on my list, but I admit I have never finished any of his novels that I've tried. I always find them too depressing.
This one sounds like that too.

John Mutford said...

Ooops! I accidentally erased a comment from Ordinary Reader who wrote, "I'm afraid I'm becoming a little disenchanted with Canadian writing. Though some of the best books I've read have been Canadian, lately every one I pick up is full of misery and despair. Why are we so tediously unhappy; is there something in our water? I don't need every book to be Anne of Green Gables, but a little comic relief now and then would sure be nice. I've rounded up a few more to try and am hoping they won't be quite so bleak. I don't know how much more I can take. Maybe I need some Stephen Leacock."

John Mutford said...

Ordinary Reader: I agree, but I think there has been a changing of the guard lately. In the past 5 years or so, I think "quirky" has been the order of the day. Granted, I'm starting to grow tired off that as well, but at least times are changing.