Tuesday, November 6, 2007

CanLit Primer

Or; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Never Join a Book Club

Welcome new reader to the first and only introductory seminar to the wonderful world of Canadian Literature. What you’ll get here isn’t a list of great Canadian Fiction or required reading but a primer in how to tell something will be praised or even classified as CanLit. You see, CanLit is a genre just like Noir Detective Fiction, Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, Bodice Rippers, or Dystopian.

The assumed qualification for CanLit is that the author resides in Canada. That’s really the starting assumption but the genre is actually based on tropes and not particularly limited to geographic boundaries. Instead I posit that the genre is based on three main components I call the triumvirate of abuse.

In order to be considered CanLit, and in turn qualify for any CanLit prizes, a work of fiction must contain 2 of the following 3 aspects, if not all three in some combination:

1) Physical Abuse,

2) Sexual Abuse/Incest; and

3) Alcohol Abuse.

If your work of fiction fails to contain a minimum of 2 of these aspects it will forever be shunned as popular fiction and therefore not to be considered of any benefit to the Canadian Literary tradition of CanLit. A potential fourth aspect is a rural setting, if not poverty and misery in general, particularly if the setting is urban. However, setting is not particularly important for any claims a work of fiction may have to CanLit status as long as the triumvirate of abuse is used to proper effect.

If you attempt to forgo the required triumvirate of abusive plot points your novel must be set in India, or, only if you are a curmudgeonly charming English speaking Jew, Montreal.

There are a few additional aspects that will tend to work against your attempts at inclusion into the genre, and in particular qualify your work for any CanLit award. Do not, under any circumstances be born a white English speaking male. Quebecois is okay but you will only benefit from having some form of surname that is foreign to the English speaker or reader. Women authors should never attempt to style their hair or pronounce words at an audible level when reading from their works in public. Although that does not affect the quality of work it does help in creating a campaign to being considered a serious CanLit author.

Please note that your novel must be a test of your reader’s fortitude and by no means should attempt to entertain them. You’ve suffered as a CanLit author, and by gum, your reader should suffer with you. Remember, the triumvirate of abuse is your go to metaphor for the audience’s experience not just the basis of the CanLit genre and award system. Completed, successful, or well written stories are of no regard in light of these core fundamentals of CanLit.

Next week we will cover how setting your novel in Cape Breton is a coal mine for the abusive triumvirate.


Jan Triska said...

Yep, Can Lit sucks, big time.

I admit I like Mordechai Richler. He is funny, unrepentently into characters who drink and womanize, and has good things to say about old Montreal 9and bad things about separatists.

But most of the literature you point out is a waste of time. It's the 'victim club' approach to storytelling.

Why not a historical novel, an adventure story, a no-holds barred war novel or some crazy sexual, Henry Miller type book? We don't seem to promote authors like that in Canada, or we discourage it.

joncormier said...

I don't think it sucks just because I don't particularly need to ever read another story based on the triumvirate of abuse. I'm just pointing out what I see.

A lot of people obvious like and celebrate this stuff. It's just too easy to make fun of after you've read as much of it as I have.

Jan Triska said...

It's like "Canadian' film, Jon.
Our directors TRY SO HARD to make something that's not Hollywood, they end up creating these obscure, unbelievable stories which are - honestly put - hard to relate to and look like some art school wet dream on film. Except no one "gets it".
Atom Egoyan, to name one. His perspective is so individual, so unique and so weird that even a guy like me who doesn't like mainstream film will get tired of his work...plus, it's always heavy, slow-moving a depressing.

joncormier said...

Film is a whole separate kettle of fish. There are many separate factors in an incredibly expensive project for a country so close to Hollywood so the results in film, and even television, are understandable.

CanLit just isn't taken seriously if it doesn't contain a minimum of 2 abusive traits, and if it's rural, even better.