Writing a review for a novel is easy. You have a pretty good idea what readers are expecting from that type of book, and one of your main tasks is to tell them whether the author has succeeded in fulfilling those expectations or not.
Reviewing something like Will Ferguson’s “Canadian Pie” is much more difficult, because nobody knows what to expect. The book is basically a collection of his writings from over the years, and not necessarily his best. Canadian Pie is a tossed salad of the many and varied products of his eclectic writing career. Don’t read it at one go, because it has none of the structure of a novel, which builds suspense in the places where you would usually be losing interest. It’s a great travel read, because you can pick it up and make a fresh start at any time and be thoroughly entertained.
It is certainly far-ranging, which is a tribute to his skill as a writer, but not a credit to his ability as an editor, because the quality of the work ranges as well.
The Less Successful
The scripts for the CBC radio show “As the Irvines Turn” certainly don’t translate well into prose, and as a theatre director and scriptwriter, I’m not sure they did much better on radio. The fact that they were cancelled under political pressure sounds like a bit of “make lemonade” spin to me. The Canadian Olympics rejects are just that – rejects – and I can rather see why. They, like most of Ferguson’s wit, are far too subtle for such a broad venue. Ferguson is at his worst (that’s unfair; let’s call it his least entertaining) when he tries to make a point about something serious, especially politics, and at his best when he roams freely into the humorous realm of his imagination or the poetry of his description.
His best non-humorous work is his travel writing. He uses his eye for the odd and his ear for the awkward to good advantage. His descriptions of scenery and people are nothing short of poetic. The sections of the book covering his travels in Canada and Japan were some of my favourites.
As to whether “Canadian Pie” is a good summing up of Canada, I feel it is a better summing up of the author’s writing career. However, Will (after reading this chatty, candid book, I feel we’re on first-name basis), has a good finger on the Canadian pulse, and a ready wit to express it. A quote that sums up the book, both in style and content:
“There is nothing so frighteningly passive-aggressive as a thoroughly-irked Canadian.”
If you have the wit to understand the several subtle jibes involved in this statement, as well as the reading ability to stay on topic through the convoluted syntax, you’re going to love this book.
Four stars out of five