Saturday, September 16, 2006

"I'll Tell you a Secret" by Anne Coleman

This seems like the first "real" book I have read in ages; probably because it infused in me the profound awe I have when I read an author explicitly extraordinary. It is a well-spun classic, in my mind, and I am now very proud to spine it in the Canadian literature section of my personal library: ready for further examination on another weekend.

I have long had an obsession with the Canadian authors who I feel manifest the Golden Age of Canadian literature. The striving, seeking, finding kind most definitely subscribing to the school of my favourites: Leacock (back in Orillia, natch!! ) W.O. Mitchell ( rounding out the latter years ), Mavis Gallant, Robertson Davies ( the silver lining..... ) Hugh Maclennan and, of course, the indomitable Morley Callaghan.

Sometimes I think, in the case of Maclennan and Callaghan especially, that my admiration rises more from their representation of a literal "type" then the actual works they left behind. For example, I have always been far more smitten with the colloquial, yet unspoken language expressed through Callaghan's boxing gloves when he punched out Ernest Hemingway than I have with the colourful palette of his memoirs ( That Summer in Paris resonates most in that peerless climax figuring Hemingway and Callaghan's metaphoric battle ...which I read to be that of champion and defeated in the realm of Canadian/American literature ...while F. Scott Fitzgerald stands timidly by). If Callaghan encapsulates the binary world of Toronto the Great of the 20's and the Paris idolized by that "Moveable Feast" of Hemingway's circle, then surely MacLennan is ensconced in the marriage of writer and poetic prism a la Cape Breton Island and the determined miner's plight.

Both represent a type of collared world that holds such lasting significance to our bustling and changing Canadian realm of identity and mystique. We hold these figures steadfastly as we do our bilingual language, our colonial ties, our bloody win at the Soviet Game late 70's and our Olympic Gold Medals because they help us forge an identity writers like Will Ferguson and Alice Munro have been shoving at us to maintain for years.

Thus, my inclination toward Hugh McLennan as literary model as well as renowned author was fully realized in Anne Coleman's self-proclaimed "Memory of Seven Summers". The "secret" she evokes in her title is that of her lasting coming-of-age relationship with Hugh McLennan at the cottage resort town of North Hatley in Quebec.

The struggle of identity painted so vividly in McLennan's masterpiece, "Two Solitudes" is once again forked out Coleman's remembrance of Quebec in the 1950's. Amidst the cold war, the lasting Francophile and Anglophile conflicts and the changing patriarchal and parochial roles in the boarding school Anne attends and later at McGill, Anne fleshes out a tender relationship any fourteen year old girl with a passion for reading and an insatiable mind would die for.

Hugh McLennan becomes a sort of trinity: father, mentor and almost-lover, as Anne relates to us ( ellipses occuring when memory lapses ) the story of an eager young girl infatuated with a celebrity writer many years her senior.

The word" master" is often used: as becomes the diction of a girl so enveloped in the world of Jane Eyre she peeks all over for "Mrs. Rochesters" and molds her own story on its figurative counterparts in her favourite novel.

My liking for Hugh McLennan was not lessened by this odd ( and at times seemingly irrational and almost dishonourable ) relationship, yet heightened. Anne does not taunt us with a recount of some "Dynasty"-worthy spill-all. Instead, she threads out the bundled and bustling awkwardness of adolescent calamity. She invites us into her world and keeps us there. Our heart catches for her nearly-blossomed relationship and somewhat sinks when it doesn't quite evolve.

She pushes hard and teases and lures..... but that ending, the one you crave despite the inevitability of history, fate and time, keeps you staunchly( albeit wisely) at bay.

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