Over lunch with her and a talented local writer, the three of us found we had much in common in our experience as rural writers. The photos that Butala shared are also really neat. Once again, I was held to read and reflect as I read over a period of several hours. I found the writing was a bit clumsy and the thought processes, from one idea to the next, not as smooth as some of her other writing. Reading 'Where I Live Now' has filled in some missing pieces for me. It reads like Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking meets Candace Savage's The Geography of Blood. The experience of a woman displaced from the urban, professional life where she was comfortable in her skin moved me to the core.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and my beloved friend Cathie accompanied me to visit that wide expanse of land that Sharon writes about south of Eastend. The grace of her storytelling emanates from her willingness to go deep within herself. Back in 1985, I was driving through the Cypress Hills-Fort Walsh area with my parents. Like did you know in 1991 a nearly complete T-Rex skeleton was found in Saskatchewan? I'm also obviously not really the target audience for this either. I sure hope it isn't portending something horrible. I was excited to read Sharon Butala's latest novel about pioneer life in Saskatchewan, because my forefathers homesteaded in that province and my family is still farming there.
I wanted Sophie to continue to thrive and prosper where she was, building a successful life and town by her own efforts, not turn tail and run, especially not through the most unlikely and too easy device of a windfall of money received in the mail. But of course I returned to this fascinating picture of a life that moves a little like the wind in the prairie grass from town to country and back again. But that's already too narrow--Sharon Butala writes movingly of a landscape still largely populated by coyotes, owls, wolves, cattle. Where I Live Now is profound in its understanding of the many homes women must build for themselves in a lifetime. The book begins as Sophie endures several days alone with her young child, slowly coming to realize that her husband has abandoned her on their meager farm with no way to seek help. I sure hope it isn't portending something horrible.
Cover Image: Photograph of Sharon Butala by Duane Prentice Duane Prentice is a cinema stills, documentary and fine art photographer. The author did an excellent job of writing this book and I am sure anyone who has suffered the loss of a love one would find this book an inspiration for their journey through life. May contain limited notes, underlining or highlighting that does affect the text. But that's already too narrow--Sharon Butala writes movingly of a landscape still largely populated by coyotes, owls, wolves, cattle. Sharon Butala writes with honesty and tenderness and invites the reader into her private world while sharing many insights gained over the years that go far beyond the personal and specific. Also, Charles, does not seem like a normal three or four year old - they do not normally require naps and coddling - I felt the book depicted him as much younger than his years. Spoiler: she acknowledges the important connection to nature for survival, and moves to the city anyway.
This short, thoughtful memoir packs in a lot of content. None of us understood that in many areas of the province, these vestiges of someone's distastrous past would hold the last relics of prairie biodiversity. The experience of a woman displaced from the urban, professional life where she was comfortable in her skin moved me to the core. Most of where she talks about is southwest Saskatchewan and I don't live exactly there, but it's a small province and I found it very interesting to read both about Butala's person history and what she had learned and shared about Saskatchewan's history. As anyone who has lived in it knows, beauty is a requirement of the human soul.
I would give this book a three and a half star. I thought the description of her life in Quebec could have been shortened. She is a Member of the Order of Canada. It's a fairly quick read, but the Saskatchewan history is very interesting and I think the grief aspect would be very relateable to many. Perhaps Butala is a better memoirist than novelist. I found it very interesting that Butala's husband inherited the ranch from his father, an immigrant from Slovakia, that most of the land has been never broken and that she and her husband, lacking joint heirs, left the huge range to the Nature Conservancy of Canada which would have shocked an appalled many of the ranchers in that area. Grief has it's own timetable.
It's never a pretty sight to watch people go bankrupt. The cops in North Bay would have died laughing. Her grief made me ache, as what she had with Peter is forever lost. A beautiful evocation of a life, a love and a place. Or if this environmentalist lives in the country he's likely to have retired there, with money in the bank; he doesn't need to know his land and the seasons and the weather patterns over it the way a small farmer or a rancher needs to know his. Recommended for fans of Perfection of the Morning and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Look for more titles in the HarperCollins short-stories collection to build your digital library.
The book is still well worth reading if you enjoy Canadian historical fiction. I felt like she tries so hard to describe what those dual losses were like and what they meant for her life as a widow, but she didn't quite get to the heart of it in this book. It is a prayerful testament to All That Is. So, on that day, these four adults, through our Sunday afternoon conversation, became a portal for me to travel into my own soul. I live in Saskatchewan myself, and one of the places mentioned in the book is actually where I was born. The small family farm is being wiped out of existence to be replaced by monster enterprises where no birds sing. She has authored eighteen books, including The Perfection of the Morning.