Bill Rowe and Rosie O’dell
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.