So we’re in the finals for Canada Reads. My latest novel Indian Horse is among five chosen by readers in what’s been termed a turf war. That means that the country was divided in to five regions that all sent one book to the final tussle. Those live debates begin Feb. 11 and conclude on Valentine’s Day.
It’s immensely gratifying. Indian Horse is about the effects of residential schools on the aboriginal children who were sent to there. The story is bleak, harrowing, grisly and hard. But it is also redemptive, healing and powerful. It uses hockey as a largely metaphorical device for the process of healing and those sections temper the novel’s thrust.
So to be in the reader-chosen finals is wonderful because it means that Canadians of all stripes embraced the book and deemed it important. It means that the inherent power of the story affected them and spawned questions and a need for answers to a great stain on Canada.
Because residential schools did not just create massive psychic scars for aboriginal people, they created a soul bruise for Canada too. To have readers chose a story that matter-of-factly states the impact the imposition of those schools had on aboriginal children is a testament to the power of story to bring us together. Whether the book wins or not, it’s already a champion because of that.
It’s why I write books. It’s why I’ve been in the trenches of journalism since 1979. When we share our stories with the intention of growing stronger and more assured as a nation, we engender growth and social evolution far beyond the ken of any government to create. Novels have that power and so does good journalism.
A novel is a fabrication often built on the bones of fact. What fleshes it out, gives it substance is the power of the writer to evoke an emotional, intellectual, spiritual or physical reaction in the reader. A story’s power lies in its believability and to suspend disbelief is the daunting task of any novelist.
Journalism is fact-based. What gives it resonance is objectivity, unimpeachable sources, detail, strong writing and a lack of any agenda other than the needs of the story. The power of a journalist’s story lies in its believability too but we work to impart objective information, and objectivity is the daunting task of any journalist.
What’s common is the aim of working solely for the story’s sake. It’s a tough call. It means leaving your ego totally out of the equation and allowing the story to stand on its own. It means to become willing to be a conduit, a channel, for the untrammelled power of the story. It means knowing your story and the fact that you are not it.
But more than all of that, it’s about being willing to trust the power of story to achieve its end — sharing. A good story well-told begs retelling and it’s the leaning over the back fence dialogue of the news of the day or a great fiction that pushes a story to its maximum audience. The caveat in that is that someone has to be willing to tell and another has to be willing to hear.
That’s why Indian Horse is in the finals of Canada Reads. Someone felt empowered and told someone else. For me, as the writer, I’m proud of it. If we all shared our story, strictly for the story’s sake, think what a great country we could create together.