New­fie novel avoids pol­i­tics — and apos­tro­phes

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE -

A friend of­fers an al­ter­na­tive: “It means you’re so ca­pa­ble you’re to over­see ev­ery­thing.”

Blun­der­ing be­tween th­ese poles, Hay­ward tries to re­build his life on the Rock by restor­ing a house with a com­pli­cated and con­tested his­tory, mak­ing it a new home for his friend’s preg­nant widow.

“Like a lot of New­found­lan­ders, though, he pic­tured an acre of land in his head that was his land. The pic­ture has no lo­ca­tion, it’s a float­ing acre with a per­fo­rated edge like a postage stamp that hov­ers slightly above the land, though there is, of course, a view of the At­lantic.”

This is New­found­lan­der Win­ter’s sev­enth work of fic­tion; many have been nom­i­nated for lit­er­ary awards.

He de­scribes his most re­cent, The Death of Donna Whalen, pub­lished in 2010, as “a work of doc­u­men­tary fic­tion and not a re-cre­ation of fact,” al­though it is based on a real homi­cide.

An author’s note in Min­is­ter With­out Port­fo­lio sug­gests Win­ter’s re­jec­tion of quo­ta­tion marks and apos­tro­phes, and his ra­tioning of ques­tion marks, has oc­ca­sioned some crit­i­cism from read­ers, per­haps in­clud­ing some who ex­pected more true-crime sto­ry­telling and less lit­er­ary cre­ation in The Death of Donna Whalen.

List­ing words ap­pear­ing with­out apos- tro­phes in Min­is­ter With­out Port­fo­lio, such as ar­ent and couldnt, Win­ter says, “This is in­ten­tional. Please don’t send let­ters to the copy edi­tor.”

The stripped-down spell­ing em­pha­sizes his abrupt writ­ing style, en­act­ing the un­pre­dictable and wrench­ing shifts in his char­ac­ters’ lives.

One chap­ter be­gins, “How would he do this. Who was she to him. What did he need and what did she need. Do we need peo­ple. Par­ents, off­spring, cen­sus re­ports. Marry her.”

As other re­view­ers have noted, there is a Hem­ing­wayesque cast to Win­ter’s prose.

For ex­am­ple, Hay­ward ob­serves a jog­ger and thinks of Afghanistan.

“Henry had seen soldiers in the army with the same fixed con­cen­tra­tion and they were good at killing many en­emy and re­cov­er­ing too from killing the in­no­cent that were only driv­ing sus­pi­ciously.”

But Win­ter also un­corks the odd 150word sen­tence. One beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple sum­ma­rizes the his­tory of New­found­land, a topic on which Hem­ing­way ap­par­ently had lit­tle to say.

Par­ents, off­spring, cen­sus re­ports, plus mem­o­rable writ­ing: Who needs a port­fo­lio?

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