Sto­ries still flow from Mer­cury jour­nal­ists

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - JOHN ROE

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

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