CALGARY-BORN AUTHOR LOOKS AT INVASION OF CANADA
Imagine the Sept. 11, 2001 destruction in New York happened to Edmonton’s own downtown World Trade Center and adjacent Westin hotel, blackening the Alberta capital’s skies. That the Canadian government demanded extradition of the American bomber, and was ignored by our neighbours. That a resulting revenge cycle of petty murders within the two formerly friendly nations escalated into the “November Bombings” of Hydro Quebec, resulting in the winter deaths of 2,500 east coast Americans. Imagine, then, President Bush having the easy excuse to send troops across our border — especially into Alberta — to protect America’s energy security, defying UN resolutions as easily as public opinion. And thus, step by step, a Can-American War erupted.
Of course, this horrific and unbelievable chain of events never happened here. But it does in a strangely realistic new novel by Toronto writer Joseph MacKinnon. The genius of Faultline 49 (Guy Faux Books) is exactly this: the 250-page thought exercise swaps Edmonton with New York, and also Canada with Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations in a buildup of violence, fabrication and barely concealed geopolitical oil interests. It’s a story one would never swallow, had it not actually gone down between the U.S. and the Middle East, including the ongoing Iraq occupation. MacKinnon, who wrote his book under the name of fictional journalist David Danson, transplants countless footnoted reallife quotes from Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and political commentators such as Pat Buchanan, declaring Canada “Soviet Canuckistan,” and Ann Coulter’s belch.
“They are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent.”
Yes, she actually said that, in our reality, in 2004. But it’s extra sinister with U.S. troops blockading Edmonton’s High Level Bridge.
MacKinnon, 24, was born in Calgary, graduated from the University of Alberta with a master’s of English and Film Studies and now lives in Toronto.
He has a fabulous and elastic intelligence behind playing havoc with North American relations. Though he’s quick to sternly stress the tragedy of the real 9/11, talking to MacKinnon it’s easy to believe H.G. Wells had a little fun with War of the Worlds, his commentary on the perils of British Imperialism. Germ-vulnerable Martians aside, there’s certainly a long tradition of “elseworlds,” counter-factual fiction stretching back through the Victorian Age.
But MacKinnon’s use of existing sound bytes suddenly aimed Canada’s way both grounds his narrative in reality and makes his construction all the more unnerving. And, dare I say, exciting. “Employing existing quotes to build this world,” he explains from Toronto, “they really lent themselves to the fiction and the fiction to them. In recontextualizing 9/11, there was already so much about it that you couldn’t avoid if you wanted to understand it. There’s this theatre of paranoia and this rhetoric of fear that I had to engage with and employ in the novel. Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, even Bush — they were perfect.
“Of course,” he laughs, “there are little manipulations here and there. We’re not at war with the United States, for example.” Sometimes the real world actually went too far. “Tucker Carlson. I didn’t include his because it was too scathing when he said Canadian soldiers were cowardly. My hands started to tremble.”
Without spoiling too much, in Faultline 49, Danson chases down Bruce Kalynchuk, the American-born leader of a fracturing resistance group called the Yukon Sprites, for an exclusive interview. Things spiral badly as Danson can no longer justify his ideals and preconceptions and is embedded too close to a doomed and semi-sympathetic revolutionary. Scenes of total war, torture and desperate stands in decimated downtown Toronto ensue.
The numerous characters and reactions MacKinnon created — reporters, moles, even a condemnation of protesters by Mayor Bill Smith and a curse-laden protectionist ferocity against Ottawa by Premier Ralph Klein — coalesced as MacKinnon twisted a strange little fact of Edmonton architecture into his novel. “I was new to Edmonton, walking down the road with my dad and a family friend and he pointed out the World Trade Center and made an offhanded remark, ‘No one’s ever going to target it.’ That got me thinking. Already interested in Can-American relations I thought, ‘This is interesting. Who would want to blow this up and why?’ A bunch of essays I was working on began to morph and create this world.
“Edmonton was perfect, because besides being ‘oil city’ — and I can’t imagine any war or proxy war going on that doesn’t have something to do with oil — I was beginning to adapt to the city. I was beginning to love it, love the people, love CAA because I didn’t have a garage,” he smiles.
The novel — which he’s now expanded into a film trailer and the start of a graphic novel — is divided between accounts of Danson’s increasing immersion in the resistance and setting up, in a series of essays, the history of a world where Canadian tenacity found us as a half-complicit occupied territory with a puppet prime minister.
“Once you bring these conflicts — the issues of intervention, the consequences of imperialism and occupation to Canada — it seems not just unacceptable, but suddenly shocking and frightening. And once you have that threat to Canada, you begin to reflect and prioritize what is important to us, politically, legally and socially.
“We have to admit it would be very different if it happened to us.”