Friday, December 23, 2016

Gail Anderson-Dargatz, The Spawning Grounds

Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of the fine new novel The Spawning Grounds, has been fortunate to find a great many readers over the years. Her books have become staples of bookstore shelves, book clubs, bestseller lists, and second-hand book sales, and her fans are devoted. Readers go to Anderson-Dargatz for many different things, particularly her characters and her family dynamics, but it's a reviewer's truism that she's brilliant on sense of place. In her recent novels, the Shuswap region, where I grew up, is somehow made more real and valuable through being fictionalized.

Writing in Quill and Quire, for example, Dana Nelson suggests that The Spawning Grounds is "a fine addition to Anderson-Dargatz's ongoing efforts to mine a vein of rich and complex cultural geography." In the Georgia Straight, Robert Wiersema enthuses that in this novel, "writer and teacher Gail Anderson-Dargatz returns to her beloved Shuswap. It's a region that the author has, over her body of work, brought to vivid, magical life."

I wish I bought this praise. I do. I enjoy falling into her books, when I can let go and fall into them, and I can see why people fall into them, but it's almost impossible for me to suspend enough disbelief to take actual pleasure in them.

When I reviewed Turtle Valley seven years ago, I said that I'd likely grumble again about the representation of place when I read The Spawning Grounds, but I was only partly right. My feelings have moved a long way past grumbling.

Bear with me, because it's going to take a bit before I get somewhere meaningful. Before we talk about The Spawning Grounds, and why I'm uncomfortable that you're reading this novel at all, we need to talk about salal.