Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada
By Stuart McLean
When the topic of books comes up in conversation, which is not as often as I would like, I usually get around to asking one of my favorite questions:
When you read, whose voice narrates in your head?
I've never been able to word this question quite the way I want so it usually requires a little more explanation. Obviously, every book has a different tone, the main characters could be male, female, a child, an extremely old man, an android, black, white, asian, autistic, Panamanian, mute, etc... so a lot of books will develop their own specific voices inside a reader's head. And within each book, each character obviously develops their own voice whether sassy, lonesome, eager or what have you. But I assume that most readers have a default narrator, especially for books that are third person omniscient. So who is it? Who is your default internal narrator?
Mine, if you can believe this, is Tom Waits, when the author is a man, and Terry Gross from NPR, if the author is a woman.
Welcome Home was not narrated by Tom Waits in my head. Instead, this book was one of the rare books that was narrated by the actual author, in my head.
Countless Sunday mornings in the winter have burned the sweet musical cadence of Stuart McLean's voice into my head. Sitting in silence at the kitchen table with a cup of hot coffee while listening to the Vinyl Cafe on CBC radio, staring out the window at a world that I was not particularly ready to enter before noon was a favorite pastime of mine back in my days in Canada. McLean's ability to pace a story are extraordinary. Say what you will about Stuart McLean but he is probably one of Canada's most treasured media personalities. His brand of smalltown folk wisdom worked on even the hardest of those living the mean streets of Toronto. It's simply too difficult to dislike Stuart McLean.
So, listening (in my own head) to Stuart wax philosophical about what hockey means to a small town in Manitoba or the ongoing friction between students in townies in Sackville, New Brunswick instantly put a smile on my face throughout the reading of this book. I read this book on a beach in Bohol, Philippines, but I could have been on Manatoulin Island for all I knew. He has that ability to take you out of time and space and bring you back home. I half expected Morley and Dave to show up in Ferryland, Newfoundland. A few times I tried to fit Tom Waits into his usual position but I found that Tom wasn't able to conjure the old-photo folksiness of logging towns in B.C. or sleepy villages in rural Quebec. That is a job completely monopolized by Stuart McLean (sorry Peter Gzowski). I suspect that future novels I read featuring smalltown Canada (and lord knows there are enough of those!) will star Stuart as my celebrity-guest internal narrator.
So, thanks (internal) Stuart McLean for rekindling my love affair with your voice. Seems fitting that I am writing this entry on a Sunday morning, coffee in hand. Think I'll head over to my iTunes and play me a podcast of the Vinyl Cafe. I wonder what Dave and Morley are up t these days?