Dad Bod

I want to be happy fuck you. Low-rider mag­a­zine easy-load for the AK in a Black Lib­er­a­tion Army birthday type o’ way. First thing Imma do is grow my move­ment beard, feel some type o’ way. But you must live in the Mid­west, be so in­side th­ese land­scaped

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Shane Book

It’s not that they haven’t di­ag­nosed a real prob­lem. Cana­di­ans, af­ter all, aren’t con­vinced that we are ex­cep­tional. We aren’t ro­man­tics. We don’t have many cap­i­tal- H he­roes. Our in­stinct is of­ten to punc­ture rather than to re­vere. And per­haps that’s why a reader like me can’t help but look at Win­ter’s rev­er­ence for Wolfe and won­der: Is there re­ally some­thing so un­qual­i­fiedly heroic about him? Is it a good idea to pre­tend that there was? Wolfe’s tri­umph at the Plains of Abra­ham was not a vic­tory for di­vine jus­tice; at best, it ush­ered in some 200 years of ar­gu­ment about how the English ought to man­age the French who al­ready lived here. You don’t have to be glib about the sac­ri­fices of young men to won­der if, in­deed, the cause that they sac­ri­ficed them­selves for was, ul­ti­mately, worth it.

But this ques­tion of larger po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance is given only the most cur­sory of glances in Lost in Septem­ber. There is no geopo­lit­i­cal con­text for war in the world of this book — the French are French, the English are English, and In­dige­nous peo­ples get barely a men­tion. The fo­cus is squarely on the in­di­vid­ual sol­dier’s ex­pe­ri­ence of war, de­nuded of any speci­ficity what­so­ever. The ex­pe­ri­ence of all sol­diers is sim­ply pre­sented as uni­ver­sal, right down through the ages. When we are fi­nally given Jimmy’s real back­story, for ex­am­ple, we learn that he served as a sol­der in a mod­ern-day con­flict. He won­ders if he shares with Wolfe “that yearn­ing all sol­diers like me feel to act, to mat­ter, to make even a tiny bit of dif­fer­ence in this world?” But sol­diers of­ten have lit­tle con­trol over what they are fight­ing for. And is the “dif­fer­ence” that Wolfe him­self can be said to have made in Canada — mak­ing it “English not French” as we are told in the open­ing of the book (in ital­ics, so we won’t miss it) — re­ally so sat­is­fy­ing?

Another sort of book might have care­fully con­sid­ered such ques­tions. Specif­i­cally, a true his­tor­i­cal novel could have been up to the task. In Lost in Septem­ber, how­ever, there is some­thing of a cop-out in the way it gives us James Wolfe only through the lens of Jimmy. Granted, it isn’t try­ing to be Wolf Hall or Lin­coln in the Bardo. But, as a re­sult, ev­ery­thing that Lost in Septem­ber does tell you about Wolfe is de­liv­ered through a haze of prose, and no ac­tual fig­ure ever comes into clear fo­cus. The ro­man­ti­ciza­tion of war and sol­dier­hood is given pri­macy over the de­pic­tion of real hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Of course, even the most de­tail-ori­ented, wonky sort of his­tor­i­cal novel can be ac­cused of anachro­nism, but Lost in Septem­ber seems to go beyond that. It seems to say that since get­ting to know the so-long-dead Wolfe is im­pos­si­ble, the only thing to be done is el­e­vate him to hero sta­tus and re­vere him ac­cord­ingly.

This lat­ter prob­lem is an is­sue that Win­ter seems to ac­knowl­edge. In a some­what too-di­rect metaphor to­ward the end of the book, Genevieve Waugh re­counts her visit to a hand­writ­ing ex­pert, who starts to tell her how it might look to com­pose in some­one else’s hand. “If you try to forge, you write more slowly,” he tells her, “like fol­low­ing in some­one’s foot­steps. There are, there­fore, trem­blings, or break­ing-points.” Which raises the ques­tion of whether all the pages of Lost in Septem­ber, about the fields and the bat­tles and the ram­pages and the stiff red coats, were re­ally much more than Win­ter draft­ing a bor­rowed story with dif­fer­ent colours of ink. The fi­nal re­sult may be aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing to its au­thor, but it lacks the heft of an orig­i­nal cre­ation.

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