Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/3/2010 (3494 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Dianne Warren
HarperCollins, 326 pages, $32
There's an old joke about Saskatchewan, and how it's possible to watch your dog run away for three weeks.
Although her tone lacks the flippancy of the joke, Regina-based Dianne Warren carefully conjures up the vast, seemingly endless, Prairie landscape and the characters it shapes in her first novel.
She divides Cool Water into nine chapters, all of which are organized into smaller sections. Each vignette could stand on its own, illustrating Warren's previous experience as a writer of three volumes of short fiction.
The novel is set in the fictional small town of Juliet, Sask., where everyone knows everyone else's business. The countryside is the unifying element among all of the chapters and sections.
Warren delves into the lives of many uniquely ordinary characters, linked by the accident of location, a place with a lone Chinese restaurant and several churches.
She has an appreciation, respect and tangible love for the prairies. She artfully conveys their beauty, extremes and mesmerizing qualities, reminiscent of rural Manitoba short-story writer Lois Braun.
Warren attempts to unite the past and present through the vehicle of a local legend about the first ranchers and their 100-mile horse race. The technique seems a bit contrived, although the tale helps to explore one of the key characters: the setting.
The farms and churches passed on the road are all associated with different immigrant families. Names such as Swan, Lindstrom, Torgeson and Vargac can be found still in most rural Prairie communities.
The phrase cool water works as a metaphor for the particular kind of narcissism the Prairie existence breeds. Seeing the horizon in the far-off distance gives the illusion that time is endless, and encourages an introspective contemplation of existence.
Warren's title also relates to the desire for change and excitement common to all of her characters. Cool water is the antithesis of hot and arid prairie summer days.
The text's pacing is somewhat laborious and plodding at times; however, it mirrors the characters' thought processes, the never-ending prairie views and the outside world's impression that nothing much ever happens in rural prairie life.
Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Warren demonstrates a finely tuned understanding of the importance of everyday life that is reminiscent of Carol Shields' abilities to transform the quotidian into something meaningful.
While there's not a lot of observable action, Warren expertly evokes the inner passions of an assortment of practical, dependable, philosophical and cautious folks who are uncomfortable with, and unaccustomed to, showing or expressing emotions.
Although they long for something, someone, anything to break the monotony of the scenery and the drudgery of their lives, none can take the risk of altering the status quo.
Willard, one of the least demonstrative, yet lovelorn, characters tortures himself with longing for his object of desire, never daring to believe that she may care for him as well: "If he could, he would use Marian's words, the potent ones," Warren writes, "[b]ut if he could say these things out loud he would be a different person... he would not be Willard, but someone else more interesting."
He doesn't realize that Marian has angle-parked in front of the local Saan store and bought a new mint green pantsuit in his honour.
Warren poignantly conveys the impossibility of escaping one's character, despite an almost unbearable longing to do so.
These are the types of individuals shaped by a country that goes on for miles and miles, where the only hint of an oasis is the illusion created by sun on pavement.
The further one travels down the road, the more the respite recedes.
Winnipeg writer Elizabeth Hopkins has angle-parked a time or two in her life.