Friday, March 18, 2011

16. The Wars by Timothy Findley

I was told a few times that I should read this book, but now I think the actual book by Findley that was recommended to me was Not Wanted on the Voyage. The Wars is the story of a young upper-class Canadian from the Prairies who is sent off to World War I has terrible, growing stuff happen to him and then causes a scandal that ends up in his dishonor. The scandal itself is a mystery to the reader right up until the end and thank god for that because otherwise I am not sure I would have been able to finish this book.

Now let me preface my rant by saying that this is not a bad book, possibly even a great one and it has the reputation of being a Canadian classic. But it represents everything that I hate about Canada (and had pretty much forgotten), the cheapness, the self-pity, the protestant emphasis on suffering, the need to justify one's existence by constantly feeling that everything is a bummer. As much as I rail against the spoiled consumption of America and how that is poisoning our culture as well, I do greatly value the optimism of the United States and am glad we have gotten that here.

Here is the protagonist, Robert Ross: a very handsome, athletic young man from a wealthy family. But oh guess what he is too freaked out to talk to women. And his big sister whom he loves more than anything is hydrocephalic and spends her life in a wheelchair feeding her rabbits. But one day Robert neglects her and she falls over and dies. Guess what he was doing when he neglected her? That's right, wacking off for the first time! Oh the guilt and the shame! And oh guess what else his psycho alchoholic mom demands that all his sister's rabbits be killed and that he be the one to kill them. and on and on and on.

Look dude, I believe it sucked growing up in some upper-class family in the Prairies during the beginning of the century, but I don't want to read about it and I certainly don't want to revel in it. Why do I suspect that poor French-Canadian farmers, who had a much rougher situation back then, had a much richer, happier life. Sure there was tragedy and poverty and death and all that, but in between, why don't we have a drink and a laugh? Oh no, we can't because we are fucking uptight western Canadians who have to frown on fun and pleasure (and even then we can't go over the top about it like some good repressive catholics or fire and brimstone evangelicals).

And then on top of it, of course we have to have the constant sexuality, generally tending towards the homosexual and always causing guilt and freaking out. Every male is gay or not gay but in love with some other male. Zzzzzzz. And whenever people do have sex, it's always seen to be disturbing and violent.

It strikes me that this book is much more about the place and period when it was written (Toronto, 1997) than it is about its subject matter. That's not intrinsically a bad thing. It's just that it doesn't age well, especially not to my personal bias.

There are some neat moments, including an especially memorable one when the guy runs with a coyote on the prairie. That was awesome. But the rest of it brought me back to a Canada that I used to be trapped in and could not wait to get out of. Now that I am free of it and now that Canada herself seems be moving past that state, I really don't want to be reminded of it again.



Book Glutton said...

Have you read his 1993 novel Headhunter? Its the only Findley I've ever read and I enjoyed it tremendously at the time (though I wonder if I read it now if I would still like it).

BTW, I am really interested in Patrick Senecal because of your post several weeks ago and it is frustrating that he has never been published in English. Seems to me that he would sell well if he were translated.

OlmanFeelyus said...

This is the only Findley I've read. He was a multi-talented individual, so I'm sure his other books are at least interesting. Just perhaps not for me.

As for Patrick Senecal, I totally agree with you. It's crazy how culturally separated Quebec's industry is from the rest of the world. It goes both ways. Nobody outside Quebec knows about what goes on here, let alone take an interest. And inside, nobody believes that anyone could take an interest or they don't want them to. So we have all kinds of great television series that never get subtitled and great books that never get translated. A great waste of potential revenue. I'll ask around and see if I can get any more concrete information.

Sarah said...

the book was written to reflect on the times and challenges of a world war. it isnt supposed to be glamorous it was meant to be eye opening to the horrors that were faced in the trenches and the impact the war had on individual lives. While it is a slow read it was still powerful.