I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
You can’t get much more Canadian than this novel—it is written by a former CBC employee, it involves the national radio service, there are questions of identity, there is self-discovery through a wilderness trip, and it takes place in the North, mythologized by all of us southern Canadians.
Two young women, Gwen and Dido, come to Yellowknife to craft lives and identities for themselves through working on the radio. I related to Gwen’s search for herself through her radio work, having worked a very public volunteer job where it was necessary to create a public persona for myself. How useful that persona was; it created a framework upon which to hang the various facets of my life to display them to those around me, but most importantly to myself.
And where else do you search for yourself? The North, of course, a mysterious place to those of us who live pressed up against the 49th parallel, much closer to our American neighbours than to the vast majority of Canadian territory. The people, the wildlife, and the landscape of the Barrens are beautifully invoked, with the canoe trip of discovery forming a rather dreamy portion of the plot line. It made me wish that I was one of the adventurous folks who went on camping trips, canoeing in the wilderness, identifying the delicate wildflowers and observing the skittish caribou. I have friends who do these kinds of things and I long to have the ability and the courage.
Running in the background of Late Nights is the whole question of the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Project and government/business relationships with the aboriginal populations. In that way, it is a timely book for today, as struggles ensue over several pipeline projects and relations with our native populations are in turmoil.
On a personal note, two situations in this book got me thinking about a woman that I was friends with long ago. She became involved with a very possessive man and I think she mistook it for “love” as opposed to power. I often wonder about her, as when I last talked with her it was obvious that he was controlling her to an extreme extent and I was very worried. I was cut out of her life rather quickly, as he was busy separating her from her friends and family. Recently we had a significant milestone school reunion and the organizer sent out lots of email to see who all she could round-up to celebrate. My former friend, a gentle, polite woman, replied in a rather hostile manner and asked that she never be contacted again. From this, I assume that she is still with her controlling partner and still acquiescing to his wishes. I continue to wonder how she is, where she is, whether she will ever escape.
Perhaps that is why this book left me in a melancholy mood. But for me, that melancholy feeling is a desirable one in literature and I enjoyed wallowing in it for the remainder of the evening.