Russell Wangersky: A Conservative wolf in sealskin clothes
In St. John’s on Thursday morning, Tory leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary slipped into an apparently borrowed sealskin coat to make one more connection when speaking with the locals.
Gerard Collins has written a novel. I always knew he could – would? And what a stupendous novel it is.
BY HAROLD N. WALTERS
Finton Moon (Killick Press) is the best, the most huggable novel I’ve read all summer – truly.
Surely you’ve felt the urge to wrap your arms around a book, especially after its pages are all puffed up and swollen from reading, embrace its characters and clutch its content to your bosom as if clinging to stirring moments you know are certain to fade …
… or something.
No surprise, there is darkness in the human heart.
Gerard Collins tickles that darkness almost making it merry. Or is that just my imperfect thinking?
Example. Finton has been to confession and has revealed his dark ol’ sins to the priest. Back outside the confessional, Finton feels better about himself as if God has cleansed him “like taking a toilet scrubber to his soul and scouring it clean.”
Go on. Grin.
Remember that Frank O’Connor story, ‘First Confession’, in one of the schoolbooks in which Jackie climbs atop the wicket to unload his burdensome sins?
Beaucoup yucks in that yarn … but none any funnier than Finton vomiting on the priest.
In times before electricity reached Newfoundland outports, before the lights came, many houses, especially those dark and dank grandmother homesteads, had shadowy corners beyond the range of lamplight, shadowy corners in which, who knows, black-hearted (as opposed to sweet and cuddly) demons dwelt.
Gerard Collins knows what lurked in those corners.
Next door to Finton’s home is the Battenhatch house, candlelit and delightfully gloomy with oodles of shadowy corners.
“There was something delicious in the dark, musty air of the Battenhatch house that held him [Finton] captive.”
Speaking of the Battenhatch house … Battenhatch … idden that a name that would lure Old Charlie D. from his grave, and have him scravelling for his pen?
Bridie and Morgan Battenhatch are women who worm their way into your brain and coil up in serpentine curls. Like seductive red fruit dangling from limbs in Eden, Bridie and Morgan are – each in her own way – characters you acknowledge only in the ‘delicious dark’.
As does Finton: “Miss Bridie pursued him to the darkest corners of his mind,” … to say nothing about where Morgan takes Finton as you’ll see when you read this book.
“I just want to corrupt you,” she says, fruit of sinful knowledge in hand – kinda.
Finton’s mother, Elsie, constantly cleans. She scrubs dishes and swings her broom more industriously than the Dutch Cleanser missus dusts her doorstep. It seems as if Elsie’s life is a continuous effort to sweep away ugly dark stuff.
“Elsie was almost religious in her ritualistic gathering of dust, hair, furballs and bits of lostness to her dustpan.”
… bits of lostness …
I’ve probably mentioned before my favourite dead English novelist is Thomas Hardy. Reading Gerard Collins’ stories reminds me of less-than-sunny Tom.
Hardy’s novel The Woodlanders features a giant tree that might be, disregarding metaphor, just a tree.
Forgive me, Gerard. I can’t help thinking of Hardy when Finton considers Bridie Battenhatch – Battenhatch, jim dandy! – “looked a lot better from the distance of a high tree branch.”
I know. My imperfect slant again.
As do John in ‘Treed’ (Cuffer Anthology II), and Finton Moon, I do understand the succour to be found up beyond where birdies nest.
Sometimes, however, danger hangs among the boughs of a too flimsy fir.
Once upon a time in a different bay, a callow bay-boy watched a movie in which some lumberjacks bobbed the tops off several of those humongous trees that grow out in British Columbia.
Next day, said impressionable bay-boy dragged a bucksaw up a fir with a mere three-inch butt, intending to imitate the movie lumberjacks.
The bay-boy set the saw and made a stroke. The tree jerked. The saw jumped and ripped its teeth across frail human flesh.
Look, the scar is still visible in the meat of my left hand.
Closing comments: I didn’t know this until recently, Gerard, so I won’t tell details if you wish them concealed. I’ve learned something about the multi-limbed family tree of Walters whose roots are … well, rooted, in a placed called Petley. I’ve learned if that tree were vigorously shaken both you and I, because of trice-removed cousins, marriage, or by hook or crook, might tumble from respective branches.
Thank you for reading.
Harold N. Walters writes from Dunville. He can be reached by email ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.