30 Novels, day 21: “The inadequacy of truth”
Discovering the work of Robert Kroetsch was, for me, the discovery that the place I lived, the world I knew, could be written about. Not every novel had to be set somewhere else. This place -- the prairies, mountains, and parkland of Alberta -- was some other place’s somewhere else. It could be exotic, too. Even if you lived here. It could be just as strange and ridiculous and terrifying and heartbreaking as any part of the world.
This place could be story, too.
For a long time Badlands was my favourite of Kroetsch’s novels. For me it was an easier story to get into, and follow. There was a quest, and a struggle with the elements, and a history I was familiar with. In contrast, I wasn’t sure what Kroetsch was doing in What the Crow Said. It was referred to as a work of Postmodernism, a label that always brought a chill to my reading heart.
Finally I listened to the book. To what the crow was saying. I heard the family resemblance between Kroetsch’s Crow and the tall tales my own grandfather was known for telling and that my own father passed down to me. Once I heard that voice in the book, the voice of the tale-teller, the joker, the prairie bullshitter, I could relax and enjoy the story. I could talk to the book, and it would talk back to me, in a language I knew.
In this novel Kroetsch made Alberta into a tall tale, and it’s still being told, by all of us, every day. Sometimes the truth, the bare facts, really are inadequate, and you have to make up a story, the wilder the better.
Here’s a poem I wrote after Bob died last year on the first day of summer:
(in memory of Robert Kroetsch)
A wayward stock
escaped from gardens.
Rare along roadsides,
fence lines, hazarding the margins
or where seed
has been scattered
for the wintering birds.
North of here, possibly.
Late in the season
bright red berries
succeed the white flowers.
When out looking
watch for horsetail, prairie
Pull off to the shoulder.
Follow the bees.
Enter the church of the grass.
The longest day of summer is the first.
Sunset isn’t for hours.
The scent of clover.