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Ed Riche on political correctness and turning into a deer

The St. John's novelist on his satirical new novel about a man who turns into a deer.
Edward Riche's new novel sends up political correctness in the city counsel of St. John's.
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Edward Riche has lived in St. John's, Newfoundland for many years, and that's where his new novel, Today I Learned It Was You, is set. The book is a satirical send-up of the Newfoundland city and a cross-section of its citizens, who come together to solve a problem: An actor who has been displaced by budget cuts has taken up residence in a city park, and has seemingly gone wild. In fact, he seems to be turning into a deer. 

Today I Learned It Was You is on the Canada Reads 2017 longlist.

ON THE SEED OF A VERY STRANGE IDEA

I was walking down the street in St. John's and I saw a well-known local businessman. And I thought he looked fabulous! He was trim, tanned as a yachtsman — he hadn't looked so well in years! And I made this observation to a friend, who told me no, hadn't I heard, actually he had this cascading brain disorder and was living in parks. I had seen this and mistaken it for prosperity, and I thought that was so strange. That created the notion of the character living in the park, and the problems that would fall out from someone deciding they were a resident of the park.

ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND THE (FICTIONAL) ST. JOHN'S CITY COUNCIL

There are a lot of old St. John's councillors in the book, and they've learned to tread so carefully. They respect his decision to live as a deer. And they're very careful with their language. There's one character — my favourite character in the book actually — and he's this counsellor who is always poking and prodding the political correctness of his peers. But these are our times, and the city counsel mostly deals with the problem by avoiding it and tiptoeing around it, unable to acknowledge the absurdity of the situation. And that's a big theme of this book — what you can't say. For instance, you can no longer say that someone is stupid, because that's hurtful. And that means we have a lot of stupidity running rampant.

ON THE FUTURE OF ST. JOHN'S

This book is set in a boom, which has since busted. When I was writing it, I sort of knew that we were going to have some kind of comeuppance. We had really fooled ourselves into thinking it was all coming up roses. We've recently had a major kick in the cojones, economically, and young people were being priced out of the downtown, where they had created so much excitement because it was being gentrified. We might get a new wave of strangers coming here and having nowhere further to go. We had a lot of those for years and they were grand to have along. I think St. John's will persist. It's got too much personality.

Ed Riche's comments have been edited and condensed.