Gillian Wigmore, Glory

Love and violence: I don't care what small town you're from, love and violence is the scales from which you and your beliefs are suspended. Fight me.

Or maybe we're all suspended on chains of love and violence, wherever we are or are from, but it's Gillian Wigmore's jagged, piercing novella Glory that's brought it home to me, through her fictionalized depiction of Fort St. James, BC, and so tonight I'll fight anyone who says it's not the truth about small towns.

To be clear, Glory is a story about women, three women in particular who each make this book peculiarly hers. A lesser writer would have given each her own novel, and each one could fill her own volume without much help from the others, but in Wigmore's hands we don't need those extra pages and volumes. More than that, a great novella is a work of alchemy, and that's what we're treated to in Glory.

A summary: young Danny and Renee Chance flee Vancouver's housing market, making like Maggie Lloyd in Swamp Angel but as a couple lugging a baby named Thomas, heading for Danny's childhood cabin outside Fort St. James. Once there, Danny is subsumed into work at the lumber mill, and Renee is consumed by motherhood: inexperienced, exhausted, in winter, outside town, without a vehicle or visitors or the internet. Desperate, one evening she leaves the baby with her husband but can't force herself into the perky mom yoga class, and all in a moment she falls head over heels, intoxicated and intoxicatingly, into the orbit of local bar star (and so, so much more) Glory Stuart, who is herself impossible to summarize. An absolute cataclysm ensues.

The network of relationships among the novella's dozen or so significant on-screen characters is intricately tangled and overlapping, but Glory fires everyone. To some extent everyone in Fort St. James is chasing glory / Glory in this novella, from her two non-overlapping lovers and her cousin / musical partner Crystal, to her daughter Juniper she's long ago surrendered to her own father and the nerves-on-the-outside Renee.  No one who comes near Glory can depart without scars, which is a power she seems never to have quite minded.

In providing the story's frame, Danny and Renee function as stand-ins for Glory's urban and #CanLit readers, so we can see ourselves in Wigmore's imagined Fort St. James. We live inside Renee's life early on; her flight from Vancouver with Danny really does feel like Maggie Lloyd's, and her suffering motherhood is familiar and intimate and recognizably shudder-inducing. Once she enters the reeling revelry of community in Fort St. James, an air of danger surrounds her, and it's hard to take your eyes off her even though the novel's not named after her.

And yet for me it's neither Glory's novel, though we all live in Glory's world, nor Renee's, even if her eyes provide invaluable insight into Fort St. James and the people of this novel. It's Crystal whose strength keeps the novella, its families, and the town alive. Crystal is mostly inexplicable and inaccessible to others, so our insight through her occasional first-person narration feels a treat. In Crystal's largely unarticulated anxieties and hopes, Wigmore has stealthily given her readers a remarkable character.

But I'm going to stop piling up words. The women in your life need this book, maybe almost as much as the men do. Buy it for them.

Ten years ago, I picked Rita Wong's forage over Wigmore's Soft Geography, when I wanted to teach a recent, environmentally minded book of poetry by a BC woman writer. I don't regret that decision at all; a student's project for that course survives still as the basis for Wong's Wikipedia page, and I've taught forage once more since then as well as Wong's undercurrent. The next chance I get, though, I'm teaching GlorySteven Beattie's view be hanged ("Wigmore manages to inject shopworn tropes with a vibrant urgency": bite me, seriously).


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