No, the trip wasn’t physical. I haven’t met the author Howard Norman although he did send me a nice note. I’ve just finished his Canada trilogy.
I found the first, The Bird Artist, in a secondhand book store when I was traveling back east. White Square Fine Books and Art in Easthampton, Mass., has a quality selection. It’s good place to find an author or book I had somehow missed. That was the case with Howard Norman and The Bird Artist.
The book begins in 1911. Fabian Vas, who draws and paints birds in a coastal Newfoundland village, admits in the first paragraph he killed the lighthouse keeper named Botho August. Of course, he has a compelling reason. A lot goes on in that little village. I was taken by Norman’s writing voice and his oddly enchanting story.
In other words, I was hooked.
It’d been a while since I found myself stealing away to pick up a book. That was the case with The Bird Artist, which was a 1994 National Book Award finalist for fiction.
The second in the trilogy is The Museum Guard. This one is set in the late 1930s in Halifax. DeFoe Russet is the museum guard. He works with his uncle, who raised him after his parents were killed in a zeppelin crash. A woman DeFoe loves is fixated on one of the paintings, Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam.
Again Norman creates an absorbing world although the depth of the woman’s obsession seemed far-fetched. Then again, this is fiction.
I almost didn’t read the third — The Haunting of L. The reviews were iffy, but a trilogy is a trilogy. Peter Duvett leaves Halifax in 1927 to work for a photographer in Manitoba. Naturally, there is illicit love. (Peter takes up with his employer’s wife on their wedding night.) Then there is the darker side of photography with so-called spirit photos and images taken of staged disasters. Intriguing concepts, but I will admit at times my attention waned.
Although The Bird Artist is the best of the trio, I am happy I read all three. I enjoy Howard Norman’s absurd choices for characters, professions, and living situations. His main characters are young men who appear a bit befuddled by life and love. Canada, at least how Norman portrays it, is not what I imagined.
Then there is Norman’s own story. He is an American, who dropped out of high school and lived in Canada for sixteen years. He became interested in the folk lore and culture of the Cree Indians. He eventually got his high school diploma and other degrees. Besides being a prolific author, he is a college professor in the U.S.
Howard Norman is also a cordial person. Using my snooping skills, I tracked him down to email (with an apology for intruding) a fan letter about The Bird Artist and how I found it. His reply was gracious, thanking me for “your generous, heartening note. I like being in a secondhand bookstore.” Me, too.
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The beds along the fence are teeming with flowers and bees. Here is one of the large plantings of Echinacea aka cone flower.
PEACE, LOVE, AND YOU KNOW WHAT: My debut novel is available in paperback and kindle. Here’s the link: Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon