December 18, 2018

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Cook's new novel explores the myth of Winnipeg

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/10/2017 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg has been the setting, named or unnamed, for a number of novels by critically acclaimed local (or ex-local) authors over the last few years. Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows and Joan Thomas’s The Opening Sky, both published in 2014, and Kathelena Vermette’s The Break, published last year, all are set here. Add in books such as Carol Shields’ 1992 novel The Republic of Love and Winnipeg begins to emerge as a character unto itself rather than simply a setting.

Méira Cook and her new novel, Once More With Feeling, fit comfortably into that esteemed list. While Cook’s new novel doesn’t name the city where it is set, local readers will find the setting for Once More With Feeling, which Cook launches tonight at 7 at McNally Robinson Booksellers, all too familiar.

“Every time I tried to name Winnipeg it felt too specific,” Cook explains, “not because I was trying to hide where it was, but because Winnipeg has always felt to me more mythic — and naming it felt like I was whittling away the glamour, the mystique, the grittiness.”

From the epigraph (taken from the Weakerthans song One Great City!) through to the book’s final chapter, Winnipeg certainly is a pivotal character in Once More With Feeling. The book features an ensemble cast that began in a collection of short stories Cook was working on, all based in or around the city.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/10/2017 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg has been the setting, named or unnamed, for a number of novels by critically acclaimed local (or ex-local) authors over the last few years. Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows and Joan Thomas’s The Opening Sky, both published in 2014, and Kathelena Vermette’s The Break, published last year, all are set here. Add in books such as Carol Shields’ 1992 novel The Republic of Love and Winnipeg begins to emerge as a character unto itself rather than simply a setting.

Méira Cook and her new novel, Once More With Feeling, fit comfortably into that esteemed list. While Cook’s new novel doesn’t name the city where it is set, local readers will find the setting for Once More With Feeling, which Cook launches tonight at 7 at McNally Robinson Booksellers, all too familiar.

Méira Cook launches Once More With Feeling tonight.

ROBYN SHAPIRO PHOTO

Méira Cook launches Once More With Feeling tonight.

"Every time I tried to name Winnipeg it felt too specific," Cook explains, "not because I was trying to hide where it was, but because Winnipeg has always felt to me more mythic — and naming it felt like I was whittling away the glamour, the mystique, the grittiness."

From the epigraph (taken from the Weakerthans song One Great City!) through to the book’s final chapter, Winnipeg certainly is a pivotal character in Once More With Feeling. The book features an ensemble cast that began in a collection of short stories Cook was working on, all based in or around the city.

"I had never tried (writing short fiction) before, and I was loving it. As I was writing I began to see these connections and these networks between people. The development from these linked stories to a novel was really inspired by Winnipeg as a city."

In Once More With Feeling, Cook’s characters cross paths in a way that Winnipeggers also likely will recognize.

"There’s this myth of two degrees of separation. Winnipeg’s myth is that we’re connected, that our lives intersect much more closely than (they do in) other cities."

Born in Johannesberg, South Africa, Cook first moved to Winnipeg in the 1990s before heading to Vancouver for school and then moving back to Winnipeg again. Much of her early writerly output was poetry, including collections such as A Fine Grammar of Bones and Slovenly Love.

She’s arguably just as well-known — or better-known — for her fiction. Her 2013 novel The House on Sugarbush Road won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award at the Manitoba Book Awards, and her 2015 novel Nightwatching won the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction at the 2016 awards. In 2018, she’ll take up the position of Carol Shields writer in residence at the University of Winnipeg.

Cook’s new novel brings her vivid poetic imagery to bear on the way her characters deal with — or fail to deal with — loss.

"As I was writing the stories I became much more interested in what bound them together. One of the things that is prevalent through the stories is mourning, and being able to go through mourning, to release yourself.

"There are all kinds of characters who mourn, and who don’t feel substantial."

The book’s structure, with supporting characters from certain chapters emerging as the narrator in others, recalls Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 book Olive Kitteridge. "I love how, all of a sudden, a story can slide into focus from a different perspective," she explains.

In Once More With Feeling, each character’s chapter also unfolds with its own narrative style, based on who is telling the story. "(The structure) came while thinking about the characters and trying to change the way narrative was told — the kind of experimentalism that allows you to tell a story, but in a different way, one that that plays with language," Cook says.

ben.macphee-sigurdson@freepress.mb.ca

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

Read full biography

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