|Three books that make up The Great Lakes Suite, written by David McFadden and published by Coach House Press|
McFadden had already won my personal Nobel, Pulitzer and Pushcart Prizes many years ago for three slim stories of his van trips around three of the Great Lakes--Erie, Huron and Ontario. On the first two trips, he was accompanied by his wife, two daughters, and dog, Bruce. On the final one, "A Trip Around Lake Ontario", by a film crew.
|David McFadden and his partner, Merlin Homer (photo credit: Stuart Ross)|
If I were a store clerk, I'd clear some shelves and make my own "McFadden" section. I'd pay it forward from the clerk at Harry W. Schwartz and lead select customers to David McFadden's many books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry by sensing something in their eye, their turn of phrase, or their gait that would let me know they'd cherish a trip to this special part of the store.
|The late, great independent Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA|
(photo credit: http://milwaukeedailyphoto.com)
More precisely, toss a dart between the years of 1940 and 1978 onto a map of the Canadian province of Ontario, landing it on the steel-producing City of Hamilton, and you'd find David McFadden.
McFadden describes his hometown in the opening chapter to "A Trip Around Lake Erie":
"Hamilton, Ontario--on the road map a little blob of yellow at the western tip of Lake Ontario. It's a dirty, dreary, burnt-out industrial city, a place covered by a perpetual black cloud, and it's not a great place to live."
|Hamilton, Ontario (photo credit: www.steeltownkids.com)|
"We were located precisely at the centre of gravity of the entire Great Lakes system, the point of balance. We were at the centre of the watery universe. Any water anywhere in the entire universe had at one time passed through these straits and was akin to the water that was now passing through these straits, and into Lake Huron . . ." (from "A Trip Around Lake Huron" by David McFadden.)
Unless you've read other work by this author, you're not prepared for what is to follow.
|A view of Mackinac Bridge from Straits State Park. (Photo credit: pioneer-spirit.blogspot.com)|
"There were dozens of pretty girls in bikinis lying on the beach. Above them fat gulls were soaring, content with not being human. Suddenly, the girls were naked, lying there without even their bikinis and the gulls were flying up there wearing little swimsuits and with lipstick on their beaks."
What is going on in McFadden's three books has been going on in his other work for many years.
McFadden is a poet, essayist, writer of fiction and nonfiction, but, above all, he is a trickster, as found in Native American storytelling. Author Barbara Babcock-Abrahams writes of this character, "His creative cleverness amazes us and keeps alive the possibility of transcending the social restrictions we regularly encounter."
|(photo credit: www.strangedaysindeednews.blogspot.com)|
He is able to mix the cosmic with comedy. He leavens longing with laughter.
|(graphic by John Boyle)|
On the occasion of his 70th birthday, he received a festschrift with words from friends and family. In his blog, Serif of Nottingblog, Gary Barwin of McFadden's hometown of Hamilton, writes, "They should name a certain kind of bemused happy/sad wonder after him. A quirky curiosity."
Maybe it's because many of my favorite writers, musicians and comedians come from Canada, but I'd long felt that many Canadians must enjoy their turn on this road of life a bit more than the sad rest of us. Only a Canadian would think of naming their one dollar coin, a "Loonie," their two-dollar coin, a "Toonie," and their ATM machine, a "Johnny Cash."
David McFadden's world through his writings compounds my belief. In the early 1990s, I didn't take my family on a trip around Lake Ontario, but I did drive them over 500 miles to the city of Hamilton to see if was the dirty, dreary wonder as McFadden had described it. I didn't find the author there--he had long ago moved to Toronto--but I did discover a used bookstore, where the shop owner with cataracts was selling cartons of loneliness at half-price, a cheap 1970's vintage radio on a back counter was playing "Stranger Song" by Leonard Cohen, and on a high shelf, selling for four bucks Canadian, was McFadden's well-worn novel, "Canadian Sunset," signed by the man himself.
|1986 novel by David McFadden (Photo of author by Toronto Transit Commission)|
|(Artwork by Jennifer Thermes)|