Gildiner’s third mem­oir charm­ing but flawed

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Julie Carl

FANS of Cather­ine Gildiner’s first two me­moirs will re­mem­ber the hu­mour, the warmth, the hu­man­ity of those lovely books, 1999’s Too Close to the Falls and 2010’s After the Falls, both best­sellers. They will still find those qual­i­ties in Com­ing Ashore, her third mem­oir, al­beit in a story that feels rushed and a lit­tle less be­liev­able than the first two. This mem­oir — the fi­nal one, Gildiner says — fol­lows Cathy from her post-teen years and some mis­led po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism to be­com­ing a schol­ar­ship stu­dent of po­etry at Ox­ford Univer­sity to teach­ing at an in­nercity school in Cleve­land to the Univer­sity of Toronto, where she meets the man she mar­ries. Gildiner re­mained in Canada, where she writes fre­quently for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and ra­dio. A psy­chol­o­gist, she wrote a monthly ad­vice col­umn in Chate­laine from 1993 to 2005. Com­ing Ashore is en­joy­able in the clas­sic Gildiner style: hu­mor­ous, clever sto­ry­telling with the added bonus of the ob­ser­va­tions of a fish out of wa­ter, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing her time in Eng­land. But the story just doesn’t ring as true as her child­hood mem­oir. Too Close to the Falls should be the one that’s hard to be­lieve. Gildiner was an only child born to ag­ing par­ents, so pre­co­cious by age four that her mother ap­pealed to her pe­di­a­tri­cian for help. He sug­gested the child needed to work full time. So pre-kinder­garten, Gildiner be­came a de­liv­ery per­son at her fa­ther’s pharmacy with Roy, who drove the car while she read the map, of­ten from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. And yet Gildiner made that be­liev­able, even the story of de­liv­er­ing drugs to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe when she was film­ing Ni­a­gara. Com­ing Ashore has For­rest Gump- like mo­ments, with Cathy’s life touch­ing on ma­jor mile­stones of the time. True, the tim­ing means the sit­u­a­tions were pos­si­ble. But re­ally? How likely is it that one woman would have fel­low Ox­ford stu­dent Bill Clin­ton urge her to cheat in a row­ing race, know one of the stu­dents shot by the na­tional guard at Kent State, room with mem­bers of the FLQ in Toronto, be­come the room­mate of one of Canada’s big­gest drug deal­ers at the in­fa­mous Rochdale Col­lege apart­ments where her pro­fes­sor, Northrop Frye, at­tends her go­ing-away party, then marry a man whose for­mer room­mates es­tab­lished the orig­i­nal Moose­wood col­lec­tive? But rather than the grand sweep of story, per­haps it is the lit­tle, nit­picky er­rors that mildly un­der­mine Com­ing Ashore. An ex­am­ple: Gildiner writes that she had only one week to pre­pare her ap­pli­ca­tion to Columbia Univer­sity, then less than two pages later, she refers to fran­ti­cally work­ing at it “over the last few weeks.” There’s noth­ing egre­gious in the in­ac­cu­ra­cies; in fact, those sorts of de­tails are the stuff of mem­ory. Maybe if this sort of ir­reg­u­lar­ity had been cleaned up in rewrit­ing, the reader would not have ques­tioned the many di­rect quotes. Gildiner can’t re­call how long her ap­pli­ca­tion took, but she re­mem­bers ex­act quotes for nearly 50 years? In the end, it is Gildiner’s hon­esty about who she was and how she re­acted to life that will hold the reader. It is en­dear­ing that she does not spare her­self her em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments: not lis­ten­ing to where the brakes are on an English bi­cy­cle, an ad­ven­ture that ends with her crash­ing through the post of­fice plate-glass win­dow; wear­ing an en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ate dress to high ta­ble at con­ser­va­tive Ox­ford; her tone deaf­ness as she won­ders why she can hear the art film while her com­pan­ions say they can­not as she talks and talks, ex­plain­ing all the nu­ances in the film. And, of course, her fond­ness for Canada will en­dear her to Cana­dian read­ers: “I fig­ured mov­ing to Canada had one ad­van­tage: it was hard to screw up there since not much hap­pened. Roy and I had de­liv­ered medicine on the Cana­dian side of the falls. When I asked Roy why we never de­liv­ered tran­quil­iz­ers in Canada, he’d said, ‘Cana­di­ans don’t need them.’” Julie Carl is the Free Press as­so­ciate ed­i­tor, reader en­gage­ment. is on her Top 13 list of books of all time. (Ten’s

just not enough.)

Com­ing Ashore

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