Robert Everett-Green on a single mother's guide to the Prairies
Twelve-year-old Jasper sits back on a red leather seat in a white sports car on a summer's day in 1961. His mother, Corinne, is fleeing her life, including her stable boyfriend, and she's heading west with no fixed destination. This is the setup for Robert Everett-Green's debut novel In a Wide Country. It's the story of Jasper's summer road trip travelling through the Prairies with his mother as he grows from a boy to a young man.
This interview originally aired on Feb. 5, 2018.
"A big chunk of the In a Wide Country takes place in Edmonton, which is actually where I grew up, but it's not my story. I think it's more a matter of Corinne as a character: she's quite strong, she's very self-determined, she's a single mother in the early 1960s in the Bible Belt, which is not an easy condition, and she's determined to live her own life even though she's got this 12-year-old boy tagging around. There's something dramatic about leaving your life — the idea that you're going to start over. Of course, this is a very Canadian idea in terms of the settlement of the plains. There's this mythology of the new life, that it will all be different even though you're the same person."
"In a way, In a Wide Country is a big reflection on Corrine and Jasper's life with her. I think it ends in a peaceful place. Jasper is essentially telling the story after Corrine has died. When he describes how his mother is dying, whatever ill feelings he's had are just washed away by this prairie environment. One of the things that led me to start writing In a Wide Country was a lot of unsought memories from that past. There are certain aspects of the farm life that are close to me, like the particular silence of country life. But of course, a big issue throughout the narrative for Jasper is the lack of a father figure. There's this void he's trying to fill and he doesn't even really know what should go there. And maybe that's what's behind his reflective tone — 'That was a period when there was a hole in my life and I needed to do something and this is what I did.'"
A country before calamity
"The period of the 1960s interested me. It seemed like there were firmer lines you were supposed to tread, which meant there was more tension when you started pushing against them. Corrine is familiar with that kind of scorn and moral disdain, but it doesn't crush her. In that particular period in western Canada, everything was very prosperous — in Alberta the oil was starting to flow, everybody got a job, houses were cheap. There was this tremendous confidence that we had science and technology and that was going to solve all our problems. It was a few years before the real environmental costs started to enter people's minds."
Robert Everett-Green's comments have been edited and condensed.