Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Saints of Big Harbour

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Saints of Big Harbour

Anchor Canada, 2003

Back then it was spring. He had a truck. A girl had given him a picture for his wallet.

1982 starts well for Guy Boucher. But before long he feels the need to move to the town of Big Harbour to get away from his school, family life, and most of all ‘the supreme and utter retardation of my existence which mostly takes the form of Isadore.’

An Acadian adolescent oppressed by boredom and poverty, Guy is made even more miserable by uncle Isadore who lives with Guy and his mother in exchange for use of his pick-up truck. Isadore is determined to make a man of Guy by feeding him drinks at age ten, coaching him to be an aggressive hockey player, and teaching him to box and not flinch when he’s hit. Fighting is an accepted way of alleviating the tedium of small-town life, and violence finds its way into hockey games and school dances and bars.

Isadore is not an ideal role model, but he’s the only man in the house since the departure of Guy’s father. Isadore once moved away to make something of himself, but now is looked after by his sister, spends his disability cheques on booze, is prone to violent tantrums, and yet commands a certain local respect. He waxes eloquent on family values, loyalty and ‘being a man’. He is a large, confident man, a natural storyteller, and people like to follow him. But in spite of his speeches, he is only concerned with himself, ignorant of the needs of others.

Driving the truck to a dance one night, Guy meets the lovely Corinne Fortune. Corinne also has a physical power that makes people want to share the glow of popularity. Like Isadore, Corinne is manipulative, and a compulsive liar who makes up stories for her friends to fulfil her need to be the centre of attention. Infatuated with her, Guy has no idea what trouble she will get him into. Soon there are two older guys hunting him down, and everyone in town believes he deserves it. Big Harbour is not all he hoped it would be.

Saints of Big Harbour shows Guy’s story from shifting points of view, from Guy to bookish Pam to the schoolteacher Alison. The narrative is populated by a host of lively characters, such as second cousin Ronald, who regularly delivers “fresh deersteak and a two-litre pop bottle filled with holy water” to Pam’s house. There are drinkers and fighting drunks and bitter ex-alcoholics, including those who attend the inappropriately named Alcoholics Anonymous program at the monastery. Isadore’s coaching helps Guy stand up for himself, and in the end he must stand up against Isadore in order to make something of his life. His survival of a hard adolescence makes for a heroism all his own.

Saints of Big Harbour handles the bleak subjects of violence, addiction, small-town mentalities and destructive families with insight, irony and humour, in a compellingly accessible style reminiscent of Roddy Doyle.