This novel opens in “…the sweetest smelling neighbourhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland, or even the world.”
Most of the events in the story happen “…a stone’s throw away from the Purity Cookie Factory,” a place whose “…tantalizing aroma of melted sugar engulfed the whole community...” – depending on the fog.
If you’re browsing the opening pages of Mundy Pond wondering if it’s worth reading, the decision to read on will not be yours. You will be lured into the story by the Siren song – no, wrong word – by the Siren scent of freshly baked Jam-Jams.
To quote a line from the best television series ever – Ever! – “resistance is futile.”
Forgive me for this next bit but it needs to be said for the sake of perspective. When I first came to St. John’s as an innocent bay boy – long before the summer of 1978, the time of this book – I heard from, let’s say acquaintances in Rabbit Town, that Mundy Pond was where the ‘hard tickets’ lived.
Okay, that’s said.
Jimmy Birmingham, one of the boys in Maunder’s novel, is a hard ticket, I s’pose, but no more so than boys from many other places who find they must hold their entire beings clenched to survive in an often unkind world.
Mundy Pond is a novel about the loss of innocence.
Once upon a time when I was a crotchety ol’ English teacher the utterance of such a thematic statement would have immediately caused students’ eyes to glaze over, caused pupils’ pupils (!) to contract to pin-points like the shutters of unenthusiastic cameras.
Gordie McAllister and Jimmy Birmingham are boys on the cusp of manhood.
During the summer of 1978 they are still indulging in childish pastimes. When planes fly over their neighbourhood they play imaginary war games, diving to the ground dodging incoming bombs.
They build a raft. They wish for a fort. They play spotlight. They search for heroes to emulate.
To some degree both boys seek escape from the unhappiness of their families in the world of ‘let’s pretend’ that life is as sweet as the smells emanating from the Purity Cookie Factory.
However, to paraphrase: When things aren’t right in a home no one can tell from just looking at it.
Maybe so; maybe not.
Someone benevolent is observing Gordie’s home, someone who knows Gordie is still enthralled by the achievements of his baseball hero Reggie Jackson. That same someone knows, at the same time, Gordie is dealing with the fact his father is an adulterer and with the discovery of his mother’s illness.
While neighbours are aware Jimmy’s father is violent, only certain of them know the extent of Randal Birmingham’s abusiveness.
The true heroes of Mundy Pond, the ones who stand fast at the showdown, so to speak, are a pair of neighbours. Keep an eye on the reticent whittler Mr. Taylor and Old Lady Murphy, whose salt-loaded shotgun has peppered generations of hard tickets’ butts.
There is brutal ugliness in Mundy Pond but there is also humour.
At one point Gordie, in frightened panic, gorges himself with an entire package of Jam-Jams. When his fear passes and adrenaline nausea sets in, Gordie tosses his cookies (!), “…throwing up all the cookies he had eaten.”
Then, ‘Missus’, Gordie’s dog, “…turned to the cookie puke and licked it all up.”
Disgusting, but humourous, eh b’ys?
I hope Maunder intended it to be so.
There is grief and fatal violence in Mundy Pond.
Like many other Newfoundlanders of my vintage, I was reared up on fried bologna. Yet something feels wrong when Gordie and Jimmy fist in to a “dinner of fried bologna and French fries.”
See what’s wrong?
Bologna and fries!
P’raps so in 1978. Not so when Confederation was a pup.
My bologna was fried but it was dished up with a brace of boiled potatoes, and p’raps a forkful of fried onions.
I enjoyed Mundy Pond. It’s a good book. Good enough to be in a high school curriculum.
Good enough to cause pupils to contract and eyes to glaze over.
Thank you for reading. Time for a Jam-Jam and – why not? – a slice of bologna.