When is a novel not a novel?
When it’s so close to real people and real events that there are photographs of some of the characters as they were in the early 1950s and as they are today.
Such is Camp 13 by Byron White, a retired educator, who worked in the woods in his youth and has been carrying out “exhaustive research” and “numerous interviews” in preparation for writing this book.
This went on for 15 years and resulted in his first novel, (his first book having been a volume of poetry).
This book is remarkable and, perhaps, unique. In plain, simple language, it tells of seasons and events in the life of a lumber camp in central Newfoundland. There are few women, no “love interest,” no sex and no attempt to make any of the men better (or worse) than they really are.
Taken all in all, Camp 13 is one of the best novels I’ve read.
The characters are all different, from Stan White, who’s in charge and has to deliver 7,000 cords to the company he works for at the end of the season, to Jim, the temperamental horse.
By the end of the story, you will have followed a tree through the whole process, from being cut down — by hand in this period — to moving down a river with thousands of other logs to the point of collection.
And that’s a process to appreciate.
A Day on the Ridge, subtitled The Life of a Woodsman, is a collection of short essays and stories by Gary Collins, the well-known Newfoundland logger, sawmill worker, prospector and writer — known in his native province as the “Story Man.”
The 22 pieces in the book vary considerably: a serious accident to a man canoeing with a friend down a remote and dangerous river; the life and death of a big bull moose; coming home from the woods for Christmas; the New Year’s Day Orange Parade and getting caught in an otter trap — and escaping from it. Every one of these pieces is exciting and well worth reading; each is well-written, too. This may be Collins’ best book, though his other six rank high, too.
Both of these books are published by Flanker Press in St. John’s and are both priced at $19.95. Like the flankers or glowing coals for which the press is named, they should fly widely and ignite hearts and minds all over Canada.
Deadends Dancing in the Wind, poems of logging by Stanley Sparkes (Killick Press, $14.95) is yet another tribute by a retired teacher who seems to have been a logger in his youth. The deadends of the title are described as pulpwood junk floating with a soggy end below the surface.
It’s good, simple poetry.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at 111 Sydney St., Apt. 17, Saint John, N.B., E2L 2L8, or call her at 506-693-5498.