Harold Rhenisch, Tom Thomson's Shack

I've got to read this one a few more times to get as much out of Harold Rhenisch's nonfiction work Tom Thomson's Shack as the book deserves to have gotten out of it. The blurb comment from me would be something like "Makes the definitive case that Canada needs always to remember those aspects of itself neither urban nor bucolically rural, in prose at times forcefully spare and at times ornamented with sharp, imagistic detail."

Only it'd actually get people to buy the book, rather than merely summarize my own view, because I really really want people to read it.

Some parts don't work as well for me. I've never trusted how Buddhism has been used in the West as part of an allegedly internal critique, because it seems to me to have developed externally enough that it needs translation before there can be a legitimate conversation. So the Zenny orchardworker's comments about the world being an illusion, but that we need to be either creative or destructive in our actions in order to affect karma and hence future incarnations of self, well, I get annoyed and have to restrain myself from flipping pages.

Actually I had to restrain myself more than I'd like through the first fifty or sixty pages -- I knew there was beauty and value and worth in Tom Thomson's Shack, because I saw some of it on almost every page, but I kept getting distracted. I kept tangling myself in guesses about where Rhenisch was going, whether I was going to appreciate the journey. Once I surrendered to the knowledge that the flashes would come, then the flashes came more often, and finally the light just turned on.
I sit on the shore of a high plateau lake. The grasses and naked aspens around me are white with hoarfrost. Never before have I felt the world to be so quiet, and so still. From an urban perspective, nothing is happening here, yet from a rural perspective, nothing is happening here either. We are at a crossroads. I stand in the stillness and look both ways: back to the farmers, clamouring for subsidy as the world of industrial trading defeats their efforts to leave it, and forward to the cities, where it is possible to gain the perspective to write poetry and see the land (and yet impossible to leave the city), and for the first time in years I realize again that I am tired of false choices: I am tired of tinkering; I am tired of judgement. I want a new civilization. I want it, because everything is alright. Everything that is alive is alright. We don't have to choose; we have to talk to each other about what concerns us deeply. (228)
Good stuff, no?

Comments

fiona-h said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
fiona-h said…
Hmm. Have to let that passage percolate a bit.

On a different note, have you come across Ky's new blog?
richard said…
Indeed I have seen her new blog - brave woman, your sister! Good for her.

And by all means, let the passage percolate, since I'm letting the whole book percolate. I'm definitely a fan of the book, but I just don't know who else would be. It feels almost like it was written for me -- or it might if I knew how to think about Rhenisch's mentions of Buddhism, with which I've long had a conflicted relationship.

I'm curious what your first (deleted) comment said, though....
Transmontanus said…
Harold is a brilliant, brilliant man, and a sometimes daunting author. I remember having become quite besotted with Tom Thomson's shack when it first appeared, and reviewed it favourably; there was something so eerily accurate, if that's the term, in Harold's descriptions of the landscape and its people.

Same thing with his "Out Of Ther Interior." There were bits in that where I found myself saying, yes, that is exactly what it is like there . . . but then realizing that what I'd just read might also have been a composite, or something out of Harold's dimly-remembered past. That's how good a crafstman he is.

His work isn't easy, for the very reasons you describe. One often isn't able to know what it is "about", exactly, or where it's going, as you say.

So there's little left to do but enjoy the ride.
richard said…
Yeah, that seems about the size of it, Terry; it's a powerful read, but I'm not always clear what his view is of the stories he's telling, though I know my own responses to them.

In a way I guess he's getting out of the way in order to test his readers, but I don't know that either!

What I do know is that I'm on the lookout for Out of the Interior and Iodine.
fish said…
Harold is one of the truly original writers I've encountered in a life of reading. His sense of the land and how we love it and abuse it and then (maybe the worse of all)forget about it is one of the threads I follow in each and every book. I also admire his erudition, learning worn like dear and familiar clothing.
Transmontanus said…
Another funny thing about Harold: Couple of years ago he was one of my students at UBC. I'm sure I learned at least as much from him as he did from me.
richard said…
He seems intensely interested, Terry, in getting deeper into almost everything, so I'm not surprised to hear that even at his current level of accomplishment he'd be working hard at the craft.

And Fish, that's what I see in Rhenisch's work too. I'm halfway through Tim Bowling's The Lost Coast, and while Bowling goes nostalgic better than most people, I'm really missing Rhenisch's intensity.
fish said…
Try the Wolves, Richard. A sublime book. (Not unlike Terry's Death Feast in some ways....) Harold is an original but certainly has peers, TG among them.
richard said…
Fish, I wonder if you might have a read of Lisa Sara Szabo's brief review of Rhenisch's Wolves of Evelyn in a recent Canadian Literature. I usually trust her, but she's not that keen on Wolves. I intend to buy it anyway, but I thought maybe you'd have a useful reply for me!
fish said…
Yes, I did read it. I didn't think it really addressed the book that I'd read but was more concerned with the book she'd hoped it would be. Harold ignores boundaries that many people think are important -- the line between fiction and non-fiction, between pure lyric and narrative, between the large sweep of history and the small intimate details of a individual life. The set of lens we bring to a book either illuminate or obscure, I think. And I guess I understand that but sometimes wish for a larger public audience for books like Harold's....

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