Friday, August 28, 2015

9th Canadian Challenge - 2nd Review - Street of Riches

Street of Riches is the 4th novel by Gabrielle Roy (or at least the fourth translated one), coming hot on the heels of The Cashier.  It is definitely in a different key than either The Tin Flute or The Cashier, as it isn't particularly tragic and it isn't concerned with matters of grace and/or redemption through suffering.  I only skimmed the intro (for some reason the New Canadian Library introductions often have significant spoilers to the point I think they probably ought to just move them to the back).  However, the author of the intro made a point of comparing this relatively early novel by Gabrielle Roy to Anne of Green Gables.  I assume that Anne of Green Gables (or for that matter Little House on the Prairie) is relatively elegiac, celebrating a rural way of life that was already disappearing during the authors' lives (and accelerating far beyond what anyone might have expected back in the 1950s).  It is possible that this book is perhaps slightly more melancholy than those other series.

Clearly Roy made some changes, but this is a fairly autobiographical piece.  She did grow up in a Francophone colony in the west (Manitoba).  Her father was a minor government official who did indeed resettle immigrants from Europe in various small towns out west and was laid off (perhaps due to a change in the ruling federal party, as suggested by the novel).  Roy did start out as a teacher though was far more adventurous than the main character here and moved to Europe to study theatre (and make a living as a writer?) though she was forced to return to Canada due to the outbreak of WWII.  She moved to Montreal and the rest is history...

Minor SPOILERS follow.

I don't know enough about Gabrielle's brothers and sisters to know how much is drawn directly from them, but in Street of Riches we encounter a sister who becomes a nun (and finally gives Gabrielle the yellow ribbon she so desires) and another sister who is stricken by scarlet fever or a similar disease and becomes feeble-minded and is placed in an institution.  It is generally regarded as a small mercy that she passes away relatively soon after this.

One of the more amusing stories ("The Gadabouts") is about how the narrator's mother desires to go travelling so badly that she saves up money from taking sewing jobs in town and then places her other children (aside from the narrator) with neighbours or in long-term care and goes back east to Quebec on the train.  (The father is away on one of his long work trips in the other direction.)  Interestingly, all is forgiven after this adventure is uncovered when the mother tells her husband about how his home town looks and that she met all his living relatives and convinced them that he was an important bureaucrat and yet living in Manitoba was dreadful compared to the conditions in Quebec.  Presumably, Gabrielle caught some of her mother's adventurous spirit.

While Roy recognizes that she never really understood her father and why he considered his work so important, she does paint a moving portrait of him ("The Well of Dunrea"), while at the same time, suggesting that if he had been somewhat more open-hearted at home, he would have had a more fulfilling family life.  Perhaps the single most melancholy story is "By Day and by Night," which shows how sad he became after his career was cut short.  He also became an insomniac and often tried to get his children to stay up with him and tempt them away from the daylight hours that their mother kept.  I can well understand this attraction to the evening hours, which generally are my favourite hours.

This is a relatively slight book and with seemingly simple stories, but I did like many of them, particularly "The Gadabouts" and "By Day and by Night."  I would certainly recommend it to anyone who liked Anne of Green Gables, but wanted something that had just a bit more depth to it.

Interestingly, this edition came with a bonus.  Someone left behind a hand-written recipe for strawberry punch (with lots and lots of liquor) apparently from the 1970s (back when they knew how to party without all these new-fangled pharmaceuticals).

I can't vouch for the recipe, but it looks ok if one is mostly looking for fruit-flavoured liquor.

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