The more things change

August 17, 2010 by · 18 Comments 

I can’t see that this novel will do well at all. It’s really too quaint. It’s not great enough or profound enough to transcend its own familiar weariness as a story of a gawky young farm boy’s struggle to distinguish between goodness and evil and his growth from that experience. Ross is either making a genuine effort to revive a played-out genre or he is more hopelessly out of touch with reality than I can believe. This has a strong whiff of the urban novel of the thirties about it. Its uncomplicated innocence and serious tone by way of James Farrell; its theatricality most evident in the characters of Charley and Mad by way of the gangster movies, its excessive naturalism (“we had pork chops and chocolate pie”); and its sentimental ending; all this is reminiscent of another time.

– Richard B. Wright, from a reader’s report on Whir of Gold by Sinclair Ross, dated May 1966

Wright was working for Macmillan when he prepared the reader’s report that contains the above excerpt. (It is reprinted in the new book “Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun”: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933–1986.) What strikes me most upon reading it in 2010 is how au courant it all sounds. The phrases Wright uses in his description of Ross’s book – “too quaint”; “familiar weariness”; “uncomplicated innocence”; “serious tone”; “excessive naturalism”; “sentimental ending” – could easily be applied to any number of CanLit novels being published today (including, ironically, Wright’s own).

That rasping sound you hear is CanLit creaking in its own, dessicated skin.