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Forays into CanLit: The Miracles of Ordinary Men

The Miracles of Ordinary Men

The Miracles of Ordinary Men – Amanda Leduc, ECW, 2013, 321 pages

It may seem odd for a Canadian who happens to be a lit lover to feel the need to remark on her indulgences of her own country’s fiction. You have to understand, I’ve been conditioned to think that I disliked CanLit since high school, when I took a Canadian literature course. I distinctly remember our many discussions about typical Canadian literary devices: the repeated flashbacks, the unresolved endings, the anticlimactic-ness of it all. Things my sixteen-year-old self just didn’t like. Our class thought for sure that reading Barometer Rising would be different; “it’s about a huge ship EXPLODING! It can’t be anticlimactic!!”

How wrong we were. The explosion went on for over a chapter.

I’m just beginning to learn that maybe my prejudices against CanLit aren’t entirely based in reality. Maybe I do like our nation’s literature, despite it’s slow-moving nature-filled quirkiness. That being said, it was quite on a whim that I picked up Amanda Leduc’s debut novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival.

Actually, it was largely due to the enthusiasm of the young editor who was working the ECW Press booth while I browsed. I don’t usually impulse-buy books that I’ve never heard of, but her testimony convinced me. As I grazed my hand over the soft, beautiful cover of this book, she caught my eye.

“That book made me cry — like ugly, messy cry — in the office while I was proofreading it,” she said, or something which equally conveyed her emotion and prompted me to further consider the book. Emotional read? Spiritual themes? I was intrigued. She also assured me that the “God stuff” wouldn’t put me off of the story, as it was more surreal and spiritual than dogmatic. Not one to be bothered by that anyway, I happily purchased the book.

It certainly was sad. And weighty, and pretty dark at times. I’m not sure how to describe a story about a man who is slowly transforming into an angel without making it sound incredibly cheesy, but you’re going to have to trust that it’s not. As Ms. ECW Editor had assured me, the angelic alteration is more of a surreal element for which suspension of disbelief comes naturally, precisely because the book is about so much more than that. It’s about transformation, becoming someone unknown, questions, doubts, and waiting for life to make sense. It’s about loneliness and the separation we all feel from other human beings and the closeness we, conversely, long for. To the weak at heart, a small spoiler warning: there is an abusive relationship which I found difficult to read about without feeling queasy. But this warning should be as much for myself as anyone else, because I tend to be more of a weak-stomached reader when it comes to these sorts of things than others.

And, yes, God is often discussed, and questioned, and remains in the end of mystery, a terrible, unfathomed mystery. If God is not something you’re keen on, you may not be drawn to this book. Likewise, if a clearly-defined faith is something you’re keen on, you may not like the speculative liberties taken in pondering the nature of the divine. I found it refreshing, to be honest, as I think genuine questioning, doubt and, sadly, pain are all a part of any journey toward faith. That the priests in the novel allowed gracious space for unanswered questions and queries was particularly welcome.

For a debut novel, Miracles is quite good. There is some really clean writing here, stripped of excess ornamentation but with enough vague layers to leave it to the reader to determine what the book means to them. Though I sometimes wondered what exactly it was that I was reading, I was always engaged. And, in an effort to explore CanLit more fully, what better way to accomplish this than by supporting small, independent Canadian publishers? Thanks, ECW.

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