Draft-dodger novel fails to ring true

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Fletcher is a law school dropout and Mag­gie is a newly grad­u­ated teacher es­cap­ing painful child­hood mem­o­ries and a strict Chris­tian up­bring­ing.

Read­ers learn from a con­cur­rent sto­ry­line that Mag­gie’s fa­ther is serv­ing as a Chris­tian mis­sion­ary in Laos. He had hoped Mag­gie would ac­com­pany him over­seas and was up­set when she chose to go to Canada with Fletcher in­stead.

In Canada, Mag­gie and Fletcher plan to start a com­mune.

“We’ll get peo­ple from all over, peo­ple who want to es­cape the city, who are sick of crime, the rat race, who want their chil­dren to breathe clean air,” Fletcher tells Mag­gie.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, their utopian dream quickly be­comes un­sus­tain­able as farm and com­mu­nal life prove to be more of a chal­lenge than the young cou­ple ex­pected.

The friends who promised to join them take their time show­ing up and then do not con­trib­ute their share of labour.

The neigh­bours are weird and un­friendly and the Amer­i­can pol­i­tics that pushed them to­wards Canada be­gin to change.

Cracks soon be­gin to show in Mag- gie and Fletcher’s re­la­tion­ship and they be­gin to drift apart.

All th­ese ideas could have made for a cap­ti­vat­ing work of fic­tion. In fact, many of them did in the 2012 novel Ar­ca­dia, writ­ten by Amer­i­can Lau­ren Groff.

In McGill’s case, how­ever, the sep­a­rate pieces fail to make a sat­is­fy­ing whole. Too of­ten, the sce­nar­ios and dia­logue do not ring true, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for read­ers to in­vest in ei­ther the peo­ple or the pol­i­tics.

There also are far too many side sto­ries and char­ac­ters, most of which re­main un­der­used and un­de­vel­oped. By the time the sup­pos­edly sus­pense­ful nar­ra­tive about Mag­gie’s fa­ther in Laos col­lides with her nar­ra­tive about com­mu­nal life, read­ers likely will have lost pa­tience with both.

And that is a shame. The story about Amer­i­can draft dodgers start­ing new lives in Canada is, af­ter all, an in­ter­est­ing one that deserves to be told.

McGill clearly knows and ap­pre­ci­ates this from his aca­demic re­search. He just has some dif­fi­culty show­ing it in his fic­tion.

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