By Derryll White
Mitchell, W.O. (1984). Since Daisy Creek.
A story about a man who took up two things less dangerous than marriage – writing and bear hunting. Both activities maul him mercilessly. Reading W.O. Mitchell is an evening with Jerry Seinfeld, a laugh a minute and the language keeps on sliding like Kramer. Colin Dobbs is in his forties, wondering about the sum total – failed marriage, stalled writing career, unhappy in general.
Bear hunting offers an alternative to the iconic little red sports car. In his inimitable fashion W.O. Mitchell takes the reader into “the meaning of life” and charts a new way for the reader to approach living. He is not a preacher, rather an explorer. Mitchell uses literature and experience to suggest new ways of reconciliation.
This is a wonderful Canadian story with excitement and discovery for every reader. As a storyteller Mitchell is unmatched. As a well-known Canadian writer and historian, Pierre Berton, once said, “…W.O. Mitchell is what I call an original … there is only one of him and there aren’t going to be any more.”
Excerpts from the novel:
THE GAME – “I can understand that all right. Rainbow – cutthroat – bull trout. Big game. Okay with me if they like to do that. Makes some sense.”
“And what doesn’t?”
“That white game.”
“Which white game?”
“What about it?”
“All the parks now. Hell of a place to do that in.”
“I guess I agree with you.”
“Chop out the bush. Plant short grass. Dig little weasel holes into it where there’s a lake or a creek running through it.”
“That’s for a water hazard.”
“To make the shots more interesting = harder.”
“For the wardens too. Lots of work for them, shootin’ bears with those shells don’t kill them.”
“Hey-up. Then fly them away to another place so they won’t get hit by one of them little white golf balls. I‘d do it different. Me.”
“What’s your solution?”
“Not the bears. Tran – trans-kill-size the whites, then net them to take them out of there to where they belong and that’s the whole situation.”
WRITING – That year, for the first time ever, he had almost enjoyed making out his income-tax returns. He had taught Annie to fly-cast. By Christmas time he had come to realize that he had been poorly trained for literary combat. His stored past was not unique; his life had not been exotic or dramatic, had not blessed him with hazards of love or passions of war. What stupid, amateur, arrogant ignorance had ever sucked him into thinking that any stranger would give away one moment of his life to read what Colin Dobbs had written
LIVING – “All art is one and indivisible.”
“Let’s have your living life, not your reading life.”
“All fine writing is regional, whether the illusion happens on the not-so-devout road to Canterbury or floating down the Mississippi or the Congo or on a moor in Wessex or in a winter doorway in Copenhagen or the land of the Yahoos or a country churchyard or in the darkest heart of Bloomsbury.”
Oh, how that dear old son-of-a-bitch could teach!
“’To weet their cork-heel’d shoon.’ There’s denotation for you, Colin. ‘I saw the new moon, late yestreen,/Wi’ the auld moon in her arm’ That’s what they call connotation.”
“Every single bit must be the truth – the whole thing a more meaningful lie.”
ABSORPTION (SELF) – They had taken his mind off the neck and the shoulder and the elbow and the hip for a while. When it came to pain, anger was quite useful. Not against the bear and Tait and Skeffington so much as against this body he was trapped in. Mortification of the flesh wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. The logical destination of stoicism had to be self-destruction, for only then could there be freedom from the tyranny of this too, too solid flesh.
You’re at it again, Dobbs. Good thing Sarah isn’t around any more.
“You never look out! You’re always looking in! Anything outside yourself doesn’t interest you! Anything or anybody! You are a selfish son-of-a-bitch!”
She had probably been right.
FEAR – As a child, he had known fear quite often: of the dark, of thunder, of lightning, the strap, teachers, other boys, thin ice, exams. Fear was probably the young’s most underrated emotion. He’d had his fair share of nightmare panic: his body falling and falling, faster than his stomach could, his mind awaking helpless in a prison of still sleeping flesh, finding himself naked in a public place, impotent flight.
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.