Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reader's Diary #881- Edith Iglauer: Denison's Ice Road

I've heard that the truckers involved with the reality show program Ice Road Truckers are often amused by the drama that directors often milk out of ice road trucking careers. Sure it gets cold, sure trucks can break down, and in very rare instances, can even go through the ice, but most of their days are spent driving, and driving extra slow, so as to not create a pressure wave underneath the ice. I've heard them say that it can get pretty monotonous and dull.

If it was Edith Iglauer's intention to capture this dullness, then I'd say the book was a roaring success. Which is odd considering that over the past couple of years I've come across many people praising the book up, hailing it as a true Northern classic. The fact that a northern book is still in print after its original 1974 publication should say something about the book's legacy. In Denison's Ice Road Edith Igaluer, an american writer, tags along with John Denison, who pioneered the ice roads of the Northwest Territories, as he cuts yet another series of roads leading from Yellowknife to a silver mine on the far shore of Great Bear Lake. It's a long journey, made to feel even longer as Dension and his crew have to return to Yellowknife several times for several reasons.

But it wasn't completely void of interest. First of all, Edith Iglauer's infiltration into this predominately male world is fascinating, though she does seem to handle it well. Second of all, John Denison is suffering from a severe stomach ulcer that Iglauer seems to be convinced is fatal. (Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Denison lived right on up to 2001.) Denison himself, while not a dynamic or particularly magic individual, did intrigue me somewhat for his drive and determination, his no nonsense demeanor (he even scoffs at Iglauer and some of his other crew members for forming attachements to their vehicles— it's just a truck afterall), and his expertise.

I often remark at how I can find similar humanity and characteristics in short stories from the opposite side of the globe, and yet, in Denison's Ice Road, somehow his drive and motivation are elusive to me. Is it possible to have more in common with a granddaughter from a short story set in Kazakhstan than a fellow Yellowknifer who helps create ice roads? I would have to say yes. John Denison and I would have had nothing, absolutely nothing in common with one another. But that's okay.


gypsysmom said...

I read Iglauer's book, Fishing with John, several years ago and really enjoyed it. In it she describes how she met and married her husband who was a commercial fisherman in BC. Reading your description of this book it strikes me that she has a bit of a theme going in profiling men who have solitary and demanding occupations.

John Mutford said...

Gypsysmom: I just had a horrific image of a den with moustachioed men's heads mounted on the wall.

Anonymous said...

Edith Iglauer - interesting life she led, but her writing can be generously described as "flat". I am just finishing up reading The Strangers Next Door, a collection of articles chosen from the many she wrote from the 1940s to the 1980s - she was apparently a well respected journalist who was published in many mainstream periodicals, including The New Yorker. One of the articles excerpted in the book is about John Denison - I remembered you had written about it so am revisiting your review just to see if we agree on her style (or lack thereof?)

Interesting that in The Strangers Next Door she speaks of how she is not a naturally gifted writer, and has to work extremely hard to get her articles written, as her words have never "flowed".

What I've read seems to reflect this, though there are several which are fascinating because of their subject. More later - will post to the CBC page.

I also have a copy of Fishing with John which I plan to read & review for the CBC, but now I am a bit spooked - wonder if I will make it through!