Stories still flow from Mercury journalists
It has been said that lurking in a desk drawer of every journalist — perhaps beneath the half-empty mickey of Canadian Club and bottle of Tylenol — lies the manuscript of an unfinished novel.
Whatever the truth of this stereotype, there must be plenty of finely finished short stories in the desks of the reporters and editors who once laboured at the now defunct Guelph Mercury.
And if this new collection of their work is any indication, those stories are very good indeed.
After the Mercury printed its final edition on Jan. 26, 2016, managing editor Phil Andrews refused to simply say goodbye to all that. He wanted to honour the 149-year-old daily and reunite, however briefly, as many of the journalists who had worked there as possible.
“Guelph Mercury Rising” is the happy result of his inspired idea, 21 mainly fictional offerings from Mercury newsroom alumni.
Before going further, a full disclosure is needed. I know many of the contributors to Mercury Rising and some became colleagues of mine at the Waterloo Region Record.
That said, I knew them as journalists and have just now discovered them as creative writers.
The stories they have written are, for the most part, unfailingly Canadian and many have a familiar Ontario setting.
Yet out of seemingly ordinary, recognizable places, people and situations, the writers in “Guelph Mercury Rising” capture the extraordinary. Here are three examples.
What could be more Canadian than an aspiring junior hockey player who makes it to the National Hockey League — with a devoted father cheering him on?
“A Comeback Attempt,” by Brian Williams, tells a darker version of this narrative. Here, the father is an alcoholic ne’er-do-well who brings his talented son from Northern Ontario to play for the Guelph Storm. As for the son, he rejects his father, with tragic results.
It’s a tribute to Williams, who is now editor of Grand Magazine, that he crafted such a poignant fictional narrative that remains true to the best, as well as the worst, of our national sport.
In “Smithfield Ridge,” a young man journeys with his uncle into the heart of rural New Brunswick and learns the secrets of his family.
This tale by Greg Mercer, who now reports for the Waterloo Region Record, is a concise yet moving exploration of how landscape and kinship can be both disruptive and meaningful.
“The Harbinger,” by First Nations writer Laura Lawson, provides a powerful, almost gothic counterpoint to Mercer’s story.
An eerie infestation of ants in her mother’s rented home portends the upheaval in the life of a young aboriginal girl that will come with the separation of her parents and the unexpected death of a beloved grandmother. The drama is understated, but its mounting tension packs an emotional wallop.
I would strongly recommend “Guelph Mercury Rising” to see what journalists in this part of Canada are capable of producing and gain insight into our province and country. As an added bonus, a portion of the proceeds from each book’s sale will go to the nonprofit, Guelph-based Action Read Community Literacy Centre.
John Roe is a freelance writer living in Kitchener and a former editorial page editor at the Waterloo Region Record.
Guelph Mercury Rising, Edited by Phil Andrews, Vocamus Press