Joel Thomas Hynes’ New Novel Blends Skeet Redemption with Road Trip Odyssey

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You could hold it against Hynes that he consistently focuses on skeet culture in NL, or a hard ticket trying to do right, but then you would have to hold it against people like James Joyce for writing consistently about a single demographic and setting too.

Hynes’s main characters may all be carbon copies of each other, but his books — which were great to start — are getting better and better, and his depiction of the Newfoundland Hard Ticket is more nuanced here than ever. Perhaps that alone is why this is his best novel yet.

If his first few books glorified the bad-assedness of being a hard ticket Newfoundlander, this one captures and explores the socio-economic  struggles and prejudices endured by “skeets,” and the hassle of living through what you’re born into. There is prejudice endured, there is unfairness, and it does have a consequence in shaping a psyche.

Another more topical element of the novel that hits home is drug use in NL: a main character dies of an unintentional drug overdose, directly reminiscent of the fentanyl crisis in Newfoundland right now.

As for plot, it’s all about a Hard Ticket hitting the road, BC bound from Newfoundland. Revealing why he’s on this road trip would be a bit of a spoiler, but of course it involves some redemption, mourning, adventure, soul-searching, revenge dodging, and possible police evasion.

The novel centres on Johnny, the kind of guy who’s happy to pick a fight with a friendly neighbour on page 1 simply because the man wished him a good night. “What’s your night got to do with mine?” But Johnny’s not entirely 1-dimensional, he has a heart, and a high sense of morals that he has the balls to act on.  We learn early on he’s made the papers as a hero for pulling an elderly couple out of a burning house … he even saved their budgie bird when they asked him to.

We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night is propelled by the strength and sharpness of Hynes’ narrative hook. It’s one way, a good way, to pen a gripping novel and give the reader an escapist experience. His style and diction glues you in, slips you right into its unpredictable narrator’s shoes. To quote Bill Gatson’s endorsement quote, “He seduces you while he scares you, takes you by the scruff, then takes you by the heart, on one harrowing ride.”

Also of note is the way the narrator speaks to us as if he’s talking to himself in third person. It might actually take readers a minute to wrap their minds around who’s talking, as Johnny refers to himself not as I but ol Johnny or John-John. It adds welcome dark comedy to the novel’s more serious edge.

The stylistically clipped and rushed sentences match the hurried angry mind of this angry young protagonist you’ll never quite forget. It’s a refreshingly brash voice for CanLit. Wouldn’t wanna be ya, Johnny Keough, but thanks for the wild and highly recommend 250-page ride.

About Author

Chris Donaldson

Chris Donaldson isn't even a townie. He has a background in social work, an interest in people doing the right thing, and splits his time between rural NL and big city Canada.