Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

When Fenelon Falls meets Thomas Wolfe

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When Fenelon Falls meets Thomas Wolfe

As I kid, I remember once watching a TV documentary on the process of creation. An artist picked up a multicolored stone and knew they were going to use the colour, shape, feel, weight and aura of that stone to inspire a painting. Sometimes a place can be a stone.

The place that inspired my first novel, When Fenelon Falls, was largely real. Like Jordan's skinny little dock and at the far right corner of this photo, Peace's Point, the finish line for her victorious Cross the Bay Swim, most of the novel's landmarks are entirely real.

This is the main street of Fenelon Falls, still unchanged today, the Palmer Electric store being merely a happy coincidence and no relation.

The tiny St. John's Anglican Church where my grandfather preached and where Jordan dropped the f-bomb on the congregation is likewise unchanged. It still looks like it should belong to the seven dwarfs.

The tiny Almost cottage itself has undergone many changes over the years. Imagine it grey with pink trim, without the metal roof or the front addition. Imagine the side deck overlooking the swamp, and that's the cottage of 1969.

The cottage family compound, the bear in the cage, Hezzy's cowfield, Mrs. Miller's General Store, the Fenelon Theatre, and the bench outside it where Jordan and Brother hatch their plans for vengeance, are are as real as stones.

When I think of my cottage and the world I have lost, I hear my favourite passage in English literature, by the person I consider the greatest writer of the century, words from Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe.

A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of the novel, When Fenelon Falls (Coach House Books). She lives in Toronto.

Go to Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s Author Page