Patrick Lane, There Is a Season

Can every memoir be like Patrick Lane's There Is a Season? Of course not, but I'm always made a bit wistful by a piece of writing so lovely that it spoils me from reading less accomplished work. Not that I haven't been reading fantastic stuff lately (Harold Rhenisch, Thomas Wharton…), but this run can't last forever, and eventually I'm going to have to resent Patrick Lane a little bit for making me more likely to notice.

My first encounter with Lane didn't go all that smoothly, in part (though only in part) because he took the Victoria Book Prize competition in a year when I actually knew one of the nominees and thought he deserved to win. I can't see myself reading Red Dog, Red Dog again, but I'd heard very good things about this memoir, and so in I climbed.

Certainly the most abuse-filled gardening book I've ever read, There Is a Season traces Lane's early days in the Kootenays, dipping into particularly tragic or painful moments in his life since then, up to the annus mirabilis of his first year after rehab for alcoholism. Family violence, crushing poverty, casual pedophilia that young Pat would regularly manipulate for small cash windfalls, alcoholic despair: there are all the joys of Canadian literary fiction here, I tell you, but rendered throughout in glowing prose that's so observant and sensitive that the scent of flowers and compost from Lane's Saanich garden fairly rises from the pages:
An iris of the lightest blue just flowered in the sunniest spot of the new shade garden. Early this morning I watched a bee climb, one flower at a time, down the three-branched styles and drink from the blossoms. The sun shone through the pale flesh of the style and I could see the bee's soft shadow inside the standard. I wished for a moment that I could do it too. The throat of the iris is ivory and the pendant petals are fretted with black lines that look perfect against the blue. There are times beauty is a thing apart. The poet goes there carefully for beauty is a word much abused. The sentimental is always a failure of feeling and I have lived in fear of it, so much so I think I have sometimes deprived myself of simple things. (p.176)
The book is an almanac of the gardener's year, to set beside Des Kennedy's remarkable Ecology of Enchantment; it's a tale of BC settler woe, like Lane's own novel Red Dog, Red Dog; it's an ecologically aware childhood memoir comparable to Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. I don't expect to read many books this year better written than There Is a Season, but it can be a painful read, unless you've read enough memoirs to feel inured to sad older men surreptitiously masturbating young boys, or little enough realist / naturalist fiction that the long shadow of alcoholism doesn't feel at times predictable.

If you're a regular reader of BC literature, then this book is very much for you. If you're a reader of nature writing, or life-writing, or the belles-lettres memoir, then you're going to appreciate this novel. Above all, if you appreciate the well-turned image flowing from keenly focused observation, then you're sure to find There Is a Season rewarding.

But maybe read it yourself, before giving it away as a gift. Not every reader is going to find the stunning natural description or the masterful prose enough.


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