The Next Chapter

Wayne Arthurson plays with the mystery genre and magic in his novel The Red Chesterfield

The Edmonton-based novelist spoke with Shelagh Rogers about genre, craft and tropes.
Wayne Arthurson is the author of The Red Chesterfield. (University of Calgary Press, Shawna Lemay)

This interview originally aired on March 28, 2020.

Wayne Arthurson is a writer of Cree and French Canadian descent. He's the author of five novels, including Blood Red Summer and The Traitors of Camp 133.

In his latest, The Red Chesterfield, he purposefully subverts the mystery form with a story that has clues that lead nowhere and motivations that are deliberately ambiguous.

In The Red Chesterfield, a city bylaw officer finds a chesterfield in a ditch, along with a severed foot. The protagonist gets caught up in the investigation — and turns out to be more interested in what happens to the furniture than the origin of the missing body part.

Arthurson spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing The Red Chesterfield.

The Red Chesterfield won the Arthur Ellis Award for best novella.

Fun with genre

"It seemed like the fun thing to do. I wanted to just go all out and sort of play with things and push things. [I wanted to] follow the sort of genre and honour it in a way that I like it to be honoured, but also play with its tropes that also bother me sometimes.

"I wanted to have fun writing again. This was a lot of fun to write."

The thing about tropes 

"That genre trope around how [protagonists] always focus on the crime, regardless of what it does to their family — I wanted to mess with that. The mystery 'MacGuffin,' like the red chesterfield, usually would disappear after a while. I wanted it to appear again and again, to add a bit of magic realism to it.

The mystery 'MacGuffin', like the red chesterfield, usually would disappear after a while, so I wanted it to appear again and again, to add a bit of magic realism to it.

"I wanted to play with that trope as well. I just tried different things."

A couch named chesterfield 

"I had that image in my head for a long time: the red chesterfield in a ditch. I have no idea where it comes from. I think, like a lot of writers, things just pop in your head and you think, 'That's kind of cool.'

"I put it aside, but it would linger in my head. When I started writing this book, I started with the red chesterfield. I thought about who would find it discarded in a ditch. It would probably be a bylaw officer, who can be very anal retentive —  'Is it a chesterfield? Is it a couch? What is it?' — and the protagonist in this book, M, is that kind of character.

I've had that image in my head for a long time: the red chesterfield in a ditch.

"He's an ordered person, but then chaos starts and his life is turned upside down, which is fun to do as well."

Wayne Arthurson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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