Joel Hynes graciously accepted the $12,500 Winterset Award yesterday, having already won the Governor General’s Literary Prize and earned a Giller Prize Longlist nod for the same book: We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night.
After acknowledging the tough competition he was up against on the shortlist – Wayne Johnston (First Snow, Last Light) and Bridget Canning (The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes) – he credited wining an ArtsNL Grant for the very existence of the book.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to NL Arts for financing aspects of the writing. If they hadn’t, I might have had to go on and do something else. So I very much appreciate this,” he said.
A book takes time, a lot of time, time on end to do nothing but write, and Joel is a busy man – this month alone he’s playing shows to promote his new album, Dead Man’s Melody, and is staring in a CBC TV show he wrote, Little Dog. So it’s entirely likely he wouldn’t have been able to justify taking time to stop working and sit and write another novel, were it not for the grant that let him do so.
The book that grant produced was worth every penny of funding. There was nothing wrong with this book. That sounds like unenthused praise on the surface, but read the sentence again: there was nothing wrong with this novel. It did everything right.
The writing was sharp as chefs’ knives, and even adopted an innovative, hybrid 1st person / 3rd person point of view that sharpened it further. This unique point of view gave an extra jolt to both voice and character. In an era of dwindling attention spans, the book clips along at a relentless pace.
It’s no surprise there’s a hard ticket Newfoundlander at the centre of it, given that’s what Joel dwells in, but where his first few books seemed preoccupied with glorifying the lifestyle, this one is less about a ticking timebomb hardticket, and more about what makes a hard ticket tock.
It’s a more nuanced rendering and exploration of the socio-economic struggles and prejudices endured by a guy like Johnny, or the stunted masculinity prevalent among many small town males that can make them treat a friend or partner like shit, despite clearly loving them, or it’s simply about the hassle of living through what you’re born into, and how that rewires the nervous system that wires your emotional engagement with the world.
It’s hard to say how Hynes probes what makes a hard ticket a hard ticket, just that he does do it well here. And, interestingly enough, he does it by taking the character out of Newfoundland, on a roadtrip to BC, and the further Johnny gets from the place that made him who he is, the closer he gets to change, awareness, and self-reckoning.
Hynes’ literary career began with a bang (and film adaptation), so it’s no surprise his latest is making a lot of noise. What’s remarkable is how much growth this book shows for him as a writer, no matter how that growth is measured. That’s all the more reason to read this book, if you haven’t, because you think you know what a new Joel Hynes novel reads like.
As always, what shines the most is the narrative hook Hynes sinks into readers. It’s been his trademark since the start and it hasn’t stopped growing with him.