Canadian author Jeff Bursey has written a satiric book based on the 18 years he lived on Prince Edward Island.
Bursey, who called the Island home from 2000-18, has released Unidentified man at left of photo, his fourth book, which encapsulates his impressions of life in Charlottetown.
“That would be fair to say,’’ Bursey told The Guardian from his home in Edmonton, Alta., when asked if it was a satire. “It’s also, at times, genial and, at times, not genial.’’
The story is told through the voice of a narrator but the narrator isn’t a character in the book.
“But, there are characters in the book and I think the audience that’s interested in it will be amused at what is done with the characters rather than what the characters do.’’
Bursey started as a playwright in the mid-1980s before moving on to writing short stories and novels. As a member of the P.E.I. Writers’ Guild, he often did readings with other Island writers in Charlottetown, Montague, Summerside and Stratford.
During his time in Charlottetown there would often be days when he wanted to write but didn’t know what to write.
“I decided that I would write for fun, kind of like a jazz musician playing around with forms or melodies that are already known but going off into different directions or riffing on them.’’
Bursey ate at a variety of restaurants in Charlottetown and found himself listening in to conversations the locals were having in the next booth. He was like the proverbial fly on the wall. That speaks to the title of the book. Bursey is the man no one notices, the Unidentified man at left of photo.
“I took stories about what people reveal about themselves, even though I don’t know who these people are. They were complete strangers to me; people just having a meal. I thought I could weave those into just a sense of having fun. Sometimes we forget that writing can be about fun as well as about serious things.’’
In the span of listening to all of those conversations, the author learned some things about Islanders and the nature of families. He overheard lots of folklore, folk sayings and collections of anecdotes from people who lived the Island life.
“In P.E.I., the tightness of families was far more pronounced,’’ Bursey said.
Simply by listening in, the author could tell if someone was from Summerside or Montague or came from a farming community.
The longer Bursey lived in Charlottetown the more people he started bumping into and the more familiar they became. There was an inherent niceness about people, he observed.
However, the author also points to another side of people, citing the old comment section of stories on The Guardian’s website as the prime example. Up to about five years ago, people commenting on the website didn’t have to reveal their true identity.
“When I read the comments in The Guardian at the bottom of some stories the niceness was totally undercut. People didn’t use their real names and people didn’t want other people to succeed, and if they did it was because they knew someone. I met many nice people on P.E.I. and truly appreciated them but there’s always another side to people.’’
So, he explores the mix of nice and not in Unidentified man at left of photo, told from an outsider’s perspective.
“I knew I could have some fun with it and point out behaviours in a hopefully immersive way that shows the Island to people who don’t go there and for people who do live there.’’
Bursey says the book can be ordered through The Bookmark in Charlottetown.