canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999



Final Season

by Wayne Arthurson
Thistledown Press, 2002

Reviewed by Robert LeBlanc

Itís a rite of Canadian urban living: heading north into the wilderness in search of a simpler life. Roughing it in a trailer, drinking a few beers or better, perhaps taking the boat out onto the lake to reel in the evening meal. For a few days each year, life is simple and life is good.

When the weekend-warriors go home, however, life goes on for those who stay behind to scratch a living from what the wilderness has to offer. It is the tale of such survivors that Wayne Arthurson tells in his novel Final Season. Just like their seasonal neighbours, Arthursonís characters also live simply; their permanent homes are trailers or only slightly better, beer and hard alcohol central to their lifestyle and industrial fishing on Lake Winnipeg the mainstay of the economy. This is life in the communities of Grand Rapids and Norway House, small at the northern extremity of Lake Winnipeg, five highway hours from the city.

Some of the characters that populate Final Season try to escape the weighing cycle of life in Grand Rapids, moving away to the big cities, but most are resigned to the fate their Native-European ancestors laid out for them. One such "Indian" who has managed to exist sixty years in the Manitoba north is Albert Apetagon, Arthursonís central character and at times, narrator.

Albert is surrounded with a variety of characters, some of them family, some of them friends who somehow seem to be related, each one providing a study in the characters that make up a small northern Manitoba community. Albertís wife is the practical foundation that Albert needs to pursue his life. Daughter Jessie is a firebrand of Native-Canadian activism, who returns home to save everybody from the life she left behind. Constantly at Albertís side, his best friend tries to coax and cajole a reaction from the steadfast Albert, rarely getting the response he was looking for. The son of a former partner provides a character sketch of what most perceive to be the typical Native-Canadian adolescent, desperately trying to do what is right while living from one high to the next. Arthursonís philosophical bent is provided by Albertís brother, who states in his first sermon as an Anglican minister: "Our lives are great simply because we live them the best way we know how."

Albert, himself, is indifferent. Happy with his life the way it is, Albert lacks the passion to seek the excitement that drives most people, leaving his character as flat as the lake he fishes. Perhaps this is the character that Arthurson wants us to connect with when he has a young Albert standing in the corner at a community dance, or when the mature Albert nonchalantly walks out of the local bar, a roll of bills tucked in his shirt pocket won at the slots.

Aside from adept character development, Final Season also provides the reader with an excellent vista of the Northern Manitoba landscape. From the changing moods of Lake Winnipeg, shimmering hues pulling fishermen towards their catch, to natureís miraculous rejuvenation in the wake of a forest fire. The most comedic yet telling of Arthursonís descriptions of the Manitoba muskeg is his recounting of Albert, Sol and Budís drive from Grand Rapids to Norway House over a highway undulating over turf heaved by the forces of frost.

In as much as Final Season leaves the reader with a convincing notion of life in these remote northern communities and the people who live this life, Arthurson fails to give his characters any motivation for their existence. Arthursonís characters seem to be just moving through life because that is what is expected of them. Told from Albert Apetagonís indifferent point of view, the communityís major events (a big money deal with Hydro, the death of a close friend or the devastating effects of a forest fire) seem insignificant. Even a life altering decision such as to pass on the traditional life of fishing to his grandson barely moves the narrator, a lack of passion that is passed on to the reader.

With Final Season Arthurson still presents the weekend-warrior with an excellent perception of what happens at the cabin on the lake, once the beer fridge has been emptied, the boat put into storage and the water pump turned off.

Robert LeBlanc lives and writes in Brooklin, Ontario. He is also the publisher of "The Ultimate Hallucination" (members.rogers.com/breeno)

 

 

 

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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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ISSN 1494-6114. 

 

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