Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Turtle Valley (again)

So I've been re-reading Gail Anderson-Dargatz recently.

My teaching has increasingly emphasized places that my students know, or coming to know places that they don't yet know, and so last month I visited the Shuswap again while attending the BC Studies conference in Kamloops. In writing the paper, I realized that I needed to talk about Anderson-Dargatz, and that I needed to see if I couldn't make peace with her novels.

That didn't work out with The Spawning Grounds, so it was with some anxiety that I cracked the spine again on Turtle Valley.

As a reader for and of places, I'm deeply skeptical of an aesthetic that means "the landscape in [her] books is very much an imagined one," as she remarked on her blog. She has kept saying it, though, and maybe on this read, it's just that I accepted she wasn't going to give me the novel I wanted (or needed).

Once I stopped overlaying real and imagined landscapes, and once I got over the uncomfortable echoes of my own family's stories in the novel, I really enjoyed myself while inhabiting this novel. To some extent, though, I had to tell myself it was about some other place called Turtle Valley (like the one in Wisconsin), which made mentions of Salmon Arm and whatnot quite jarring. As long as I didn't think of it as a Shuswap novel, or a novel about / from / for Turtle Valley in particular, it was a good ride. The agonizingly suspended love triangles are a treat, genuinely, and recognizable to any of us who've been through something similar, and I appreciated the characters immensely.

Turtle Valley isn't for me, which--not to sugarcoat it--hurts an unexpectedly large amount when I know the claimed setting so intimately, and it's not for how I'm teaching fiction now, but I enjoyed my time in Turtle Valley this time around.

I'm calling that a win.


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