Monday, July 27, 2020

Canada Reads 2020: Small Game Hunting

Last week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation held its annual Canada Reads competition. Although a few writers and others have criticized its colosseum-like approach to literature, it is intended to spotlight Canadian memoirs, novels, or short story collections that every fellow citizen 'should read.' In one of my bursts of patriotism, I am willing to take up the cause.

The stand-up comedian Ali Hassan hosted the show again, and five jurors were assembled to judge the candidates for this year. Each of them championed a book of their choice.

A fresh-faced young YouTube star, who was speaking via video screen due to coronavirus distancing measures, Alayna Fender was arguing that her fellow jurors should vote for Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club as the book of the year.

Canada Reads also introduced the author, Megan Gail Coles.

St. John's, Newfoundland (ca. 2005)
Attributed to user Aconcagua
via Wikimedia Commons (License: CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Megan Gail Coles was born on the island of Newfoundland.

Together with the mainland region of Labrador, Newfoundland is the easternmost tip of Canada, with its own half-hour time zone. Newfoundland has a seagoing flavour still, with its ports where fishermen have been coming and going for centuries, not as often now that the Atlantic cod has been wildly overfished. To western-Canadians like me, other stereotypes are the Irish and Scottish cultural influences, and the folk music ... and offshore Irving oil platforms. It entered Canada later than any other province, in 1949.

The travelling spirit seems to have infected the author, too, because she went across to the other side of Canada to do her Master of Fine Arts in Vancouver.


So Coles drew from experience when she set her tale in St. John's, the capital city of Newfoundland, in an expensive restaurant. The action unfolds, with an Aristotelian sense of unity, on one cold February day — Alayna Fender's fellow jurors agreed that it was an atmospheric book; 'you feel cold' just reading the book.

It's hard to judge just from the first chapter. But in my view a quirky, cleverer-than-thou tone sets in right away. We start the story with Olive, a young woman who is looking at the restaurant from the street.
A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.
Fender explains on Canada Reads that the character's name is 'Olive' because she represents 'all of' us. At the same time, Olive specifically (if I remember the discussion correctly) is an 'outsider' in more sense than one. The book's publisher mentions that she is "far from her northern home," and she is no 'townie.'

Most of the book seems to take place inside the restaurant, however, with the chef, the diners, and the waiters.


Small Game Hunting was voted 'out' on the second day of Canada Reads. Many jurors enjoyed it but found it too enigmatically written to appeal to many Canadian readers.

Akil Augustine also felt that the characterization of the male figures was not convincing. To paraphrase, he said that 'the bad men I've known generally don't know that they're evil; they think that they're good.' He also mentioned that the book had 'lots of axes to grind,' starting with misogyny and classism.

But this social commentary pleased the three female jurors, who felt that it thereby touched on the interests of a broad part of Canadian society.

Canada Reads

Canada Reads 2020: Day 1
YouTube: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
July 20, 2020

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
Megan Gail Coles
House of Anansi, 2019

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