Bill Rowe and Rosie O’dell

The Compass - - ORTHTE - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

I met Bill Rowe on Thurs­day, Sept. 1, 1966 when I was nine years old and liv­ing in Ham­p­den. I was in the par­son­age base­ment play­ing, and my late fa­ther was in the yard work­ing. Hear­ing a ve­hi­cle door slam, I looked out; a car had stopped out­side the fence. The driver got out, en­tered our yard, and in­tro­duced him­self to Dad. “I’m Bill Rowe,” he said, “the MHA for this dis­trict.”

He even fo­cused his at­ten­tion on me, ask­ing me my name. I felt spe­cial.

Be­fore leav­ing, he pulled a $10 bill from his pocket and gave it to my fa­ther. “Here’s a small gift for you, Pas­tor Janes,” he said. Now, Dad felt spe­cial.

In later years, Rowe ac­knowl­edged, “I used to try to make a reg­u­lar small do­na­tion to the work of each cler­gy­man and woman in the dis­trict as I made my rounds … I am a lit­tle em­bar­rassed, though, that the do­na­tion was so small. I can only hope that way back then, a $10 do­na­tion seemed a good bit larger than it does now.”

I for one have never for­got­ten Rowe’s act that day. Nor did Dad. The rea­son I know the ex­act date of Rowe’s visit to the White Bay community is that, af­ter Dad died, I was given the per­sonal ledger he had main­tained from the 1940s to the 1970s. When I came to Sept. 1, 1966, there it was: a $10 gift from MHA Bill Rowe. The amount was in­deed a good bit larger than it would be to­day.

Last week, I met Rowe again. This time, it was through his most re­cent book, “Rosie O’Dell: A Novel.”

Rowe is no stranger to fic­tion. Who can for­get his fic­tional de­but, his 1983 book, “Clapp’s Rock,” the en­gag­ing ac­count of a New­found­lan­der who stands to win or lose all in his bid for po­lit­i­cal power? It’s a com­men­tary on blind am­bi­tion and po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion.

Neil God­win is se­duced into the po­lit­i­cal arena by Percy Clapp, whose guile and or­a­tory have helped him hold on to the lead­er­ship of New­found­land’s gov­ern­ment.

Robert Ful­ford com­ments, “The New­found­land premier who stands at the core of the story is among the most out­ra­geously en­dear­ing scoundrels in Cana­dian fic­tion.”

Six years later, Rowe re­leased his sec­ond work of fic­tion, “The Temp­ta­tion of Vic­tor Galanti.”

U.S. Con­gress­man Galanti is cer­tain to win a sen­a­tor­ship in the next elec­tion. How­ever, as a pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, he has made a costly mis­take, which could threaten his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. The me­dia are about to pounce. Rowe ex­poses the en­ergy and hypocrisy of pol­i­tics.

Richard Gwyn sug­gests, “Rowe writes more know­ingly and can­didly about what pol­i­tics does to peo­ple than any Cana­dian nov­el­ist I’ve read.”

Now, Rowe has, to use an over­worked phrase, “done it again.” He has crafted a novel about one Rosie O’Dell, who is both beau­ti­ful and bril­liant. And, let it not be for­got­ten, she is also a per­son of un­speak­able se­crets.

Ter­ri­ble crimes were com­mit­ted against her when she was young. Tom Sharpe be­comes Rosie’s high school sweet­heart and, in re­venge for the trans­gres­sions com­mit­ted against her, the two star-struck lovers com­mit their own crime of pas­sion to­gether, which ul­ti­mately tears them apart.

A fit­ting epi­gram from Shake­speare’s “Ham­let” in­tro­duces this novel: “Yet have I some­thing in me dan­ger­ous / Which let thy wis­dom fear.”

In a note on the source for his book, Rowe writes: “When we were students, a young woman I cher­ished con­fided to me that, at 12 years old, she had been the ‘will­ing’ sex­ual part­ner of a man linked to her fam­ily by mar­riage. The re­sult­ing quag­mire of sup­pressed emo­tions — her guilt for be­tray­ing a fam­ily mem­ber, her fes­ter­ing sense of stolen in­no­cence, her bit­ter ha­tred, her ob­ses­sion with re­venge — still tor­tured her, she told me, and she would need all my help to re­gain her whole­ness and make sound de­ci­sions. I found my­self in an emo­tional morass deeper than my emo­tional strength. Our re­la­tion­ship did not sur­vive. Her story has haunted me all my life. The places, char- ac­ters and events herein are fic­tional, but her ex­pe­ri­ence and its con­se­quences caused this novel.”

“Rosie O’Dell” may not be “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but it comes with a sticker at­tached to the cover: “graphic con­tent and ma­ture sub­ject mat­ter.” Caveat emp­tor.

Rowe has left his lit­er­ary mark by f law­lessly mov­ing be­tween both fic­tion and non-fic­tion, the lat­ter in­clud­ing “Is that You, Bill?,” “Danny Wil­liams: The War With Ot­tawa” and “Danny Wil­liams, Please Come Back.”

Un­doubt­edly, many read­ers will wel­come Rowe’s re­turn to fic­tion.

“Rosie O’Dell” is pub­lished by Pen­ny­well Books, an im­print of Flanker Press of St. John’s. Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass

HOL­LETT HON­OURED — Re­tired New­found­land and Labrador Fire Com­mis­sioner Fred Hol­lett was in Har­bour Grace Oct. 17 when the Har­bour Grace Vol­un­teer Fire Bri­gade of­fi­cially un­veiled its new multi-role res­cue-pumper truck. Hol­lett re­tired as the fire com­mis­sioner in late Au­gust of this year af­ter 34 years of ser­vice. Here, Hol­lett (left) re­ceives a print com­mem­o­rat­ing the 175th an­niver­sary of the Har­bour Grace Br­gade from Chief Ray Verge.

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