Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Usually, my reading habits are against the grain: forgotten classics, obscure titles noticed in foreign reviews, pulp fiction you wouldn’t want your serious colleagues to catch you reading in a doctor’s waiting room (which, very recently, one did). The sort of books that are definitely – defiantly – not the newest TV Book Club pick or prestigious prize winner. Which, as it turns out, the latest book I finished has turned out to be. My excuse? I started reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road before it was selected by Oprah and took home the Pulitzer.Andrew Pyper's collection of short stories, Kiss Me, was published to acclaim in 1996.
It’s interesting to me that a novel like The Road – a brutal, post-apocalyptic story of hopeless survival scavenging – has reached the highest levels of both mainstream endorsement (Oprah) and ivory tower honour (the Pulitzer). It certainly isn’t a cheering read, and offers no political posture that might make it palatably affirming for the Book Club Class. Nor is it stylistically anywhere near McCarthy at the showy top of his game (still, for my money, Blood Meridien). And yet, I find myself agreeing with both the Oprah producers and Pulitzer jury. The Road is actually a book that so many other books claim to be. It is unforgettable.
During my reading of The Road, and since I’ve finished it, the world around me has been altered. Perhaps forever altered. The empty distractions of our lives, the puffed debates of culture, the bluster and spin of politics, the ongoing and self-aware destruction of the planet in any number of theatres: how blind all of it has made us. Not blind to the small wonders of life (the literary novel’s standard epiphany), but to the fact that we may so easily and so soon not have a world at all.
I won’t say anything more about how Cormac McCarthy creates such a shattering effect – this isn’t a book review, and the truth is, I’m not sure how he does it. What I’ll leave you with is what The Road left me with: the assurance that novels can do so much more than simply help pass the time. They can make us taste what time is left to us.
His first novel, Lost Girls, was a national bestseller in Canada and a Globe and Mail Notable Book selection in 1999 as well as a Notable Book selection in the New York Times Book Review and the London Evening Standard. The novel won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and is an Otto Penzler pick on Amazon.com.
Pyper's second novel, The Trade Mission was published in Canada, the U.K., U.S., the Netherlands and Germany. It was selected by the Toronto Star as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year.
Outside of his fiction writing (where his work has been published in a variety of journals, such as The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review and Toronto Life), Andrew is a regular contributor of essays and criticism to Canadian magazines and newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and Saturday Night.
Pyper's third novel, The Wildfire Season, was published in 2006 to wide acclaim.
Read the entry for The Wildfire Season at "My Book, The Movie" and see how the Page 69 Test served it.