Craig Francis Power’s much anticipated sophomore effort – for its stylistic snap, crack, and pop – is a rare gem that gets its hooks in you. It’s a pleasure to read.
And fittingly enough, it’s about two writers who poke a lot of fun at modern Canadian literature, and the pretension of art. Joe and Catherine are lifelong “it’s complicated” – like, really effing complicated – friends. They are, respectively, an art curator and author on a road trip around Newfoundland, bored and forlorn about their lives.
The book is written as if Joe is confessing all to Lee Wulff, a real-life famed bush pilot, fly fisherman, author, filmmaker, and outfitter, though of all those things, he’s best known for his contributions to recreational fly fishing and the conservation of Atlantic Salmon. And for his mysterious death via plane crash. To Lee, Joe confesses all, including the incessant, raging, life-altering pain of his hemorrhoid; Joe’s Hemorrhoid is one of the biggest villains to ever appear in a Newfoundland novel.
But mostly, through his confessionals to Lee, we hear about Joe’s impassioned, only semi-requitted, and immense adoration of his all-consuming, proudly promiscuous, ethereal lifelong “friend,” Catherine who “likes pretty girls and butt ugly men,” as she travels the world on speaking engagements. She’s in every way an enchanting paradox: regal-though-born-of-a-trailer-park; wild-but-rational; fair, but an axe to the heart.
The narrator addresses Lee like a god. And being obsessed with death, has questions for him about the afterlife, like, what colour are the rivers in heaven? And he’s got a lot to rant to Lee about, from his hatred of hokey NL culture, to the fact Catherine is buying trad albums and appearing at clichéd commemorative events.
The liveliness in Power’s writing, and the aching urgency in the narrator’s heart, powerfully conveys the destructive nature of loving something, as well as the sheer f*cking glory of salmon fishing – or put another way, how we all need one thing to live for; one thing that’s more stable and reliable and profound than the fickle nature of perfectly reciprocated feelings for another person.
Joe’s reaction to Catherine, her effect on him, captures the utterly complex, amazing, and devastating nature of love, and Power’s writing is, no hyperbole, actually perfect in relaying it. This is a book of rare verve and innovation.
There is some irony in the book’s contempt for the preciousness of art or the blandness of CanLit’s navel gazing nature, given The Hope is a book – to some extent – about a writer in unrequited love, searching his soul after a devastating loss and all that. But this is not a precious spin on it, it’s raw as sushi and burns like a hellish hemorrhoid.
The unfiltered nature of the writing and the punk ethos of the narrator spare it from that irony and keep it far out of typical woe-is-me CanLit territory, and the cerebral level of the writing, and life experiences of the narrator more or less spares it from reading like latent teen angst.
So what does keep us going in a world where love devastates us and sudden death awaits us and jobs deflate us? The answer is the title of the book. Hope. A word or a concept that promises us nothing but holds us together. Just pause for a moment now, and think about how messed up that is.