Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Joy of Discovery (Part 1)

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By Dennis McCloskey

There is a saying in the writing community that writers don’t like to compliment other writers. I don’t believe that’s true. I constantly toss “bouquets” to other writers, and my work is often on the receiving end of flattering comments from members of my profession.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that “a book should contain pure discoveries.” I agree. One of my joys is also discovering new writers, or writers that are new to me. (Disclosure: I see that I used a variation of the word “discover” three times already. It could be that I am writing this from a location that’s 45-minutes from Kennedy Space Centre and they’ve rolled out the space ship Discovery in preparation for its February 12, 2009, launch on its next space mission. My “mission” in the next week is to get down there and see the STS-119 space craft before it heads for the heavens.)

In the past month I have “discovered” (sorry!) three writers that heretofore were unknown to me and I’ve been flying high since reading their work. (Okay, no more spaced-out references!) One is a published Canadian author and two are unpublished, but after reading their edited manuscripts, I look forward to reading their stories in book form. Below are my compliments to the published author, and in my next blog I will write about how I discov....um...”found” the two writers who are, to date, unpublished but hopefully not for long.

“The Day Burt Lancaster Died” by Ron M. Ritchie:
Published in 2008 by General Store Publishing House, of Renfrew, Ontario, this 232-page novel is simply one of the better reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I try to avoid clichés like the plague but “I could not put it down!” It is a beautiful tapestry of the richest language I have encountered in a Canadian novel in a long time. It probably helps that author Ritchie is a retired English teacher because his metaphors, analogies, figures of speech, and turns of expression are spell-binding. Robert Kennedy didn’t die; he “ended up exiting into eternity, sainted by a .22 calibre bullet exploding into his chest.” And a character wasn’t born; he was “barely twenty-two years removed from his dear mother’s womb.” And this thoughtful prose: “Because surely this troubling world is as hazily bewildering at our darkening moment of death as it was at our blinding moment of birth.”

The novel is a deceptively simple tale of three retirees who enjoy regular get-togethers at an Ottawa Valley village pub to chat, gossip, sip on a beer, bitch, reminisce, or philosophize. But it’s really about hope and despair, sin and atonement, and as the back cover blurb indicates: “A novel of unhealed wounds, failed dreams, and guilt”

A writer once said that writing is easy: all you do is sit at the computer and stare at the screen until tiny droplets of blood appear on your forehead. I’m not sure how bloody hard Ritchie works but its obvious hat he puts forth a great deal of effort into his craft. He doesn’t state a person’s age. One is “nineteen candles young” and a girl is “twenty-two virginal years of age.” A Greyhound bus does not have tires, it has paws. A man doesn’t look at the sky at night; he experiences “a lonely vigil of the night sky, its celestial dome an infinite canopy aflame with starry light.” A rooster in Ritchie’s novel doesn’t just crow; it’s a “trumpeting proclamation to summon the world to arise.” And a man doesn’t simply cry: “As the blood-red sun slowly disappeared below the far-distant horizon, the solitary figure for the first time in his life cried, terrible racking sobs that shook his manhood.” Now, that’s colourful writing! A C-130 transport that brings the aluminum caskets of America’s innocents home from war is a “silver-winged hearse.”

Not yet convinced of this wordsmith’s talents? Read this paragraph from page 230 and ask yourself if this isn’t classic writing of the best kind: “And when, at journey’s end, sinners and saints delivered of the sea, we stumble onto the unknown beach, what great truth awaits us? What wondrous vision? What unwavering certitude can we cleave to? Only the pitiable frailty of the human heart. I came. I lived. I forgave. Amen.”

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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Dennis McCloskey

Dennis McCloskey is a journalist and editor and the author of numerous books. Several hundred of his human interest and business articles have appeared in over sixty-five newspapers, magazines and corporate newsletters in Canada, the US and Europe. His latest book, My Favorite American, is published by General Store Publishing House.

Go to Dennis McCloskey ’s Author Page