The Next Chapter

Thomas King's novel Sufferance examines inequality, power and the idea of community

The beloved Canadian author talks to Shelagh Rogers about writing his latest novel, Sufferance.
Sufferance is a novel by Thomas King. (HarperCollins Canada)

Thomas King has written eight books, including three of his DreadfulWater mysteries, the poetry collection 77 fragments of a familiar ruin, a picture book, an action adventure book and the novel Indians on Vacation. Indians on Vacation is a finalist for the the 2020 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

Sufferance is a novel about Jeremiah Kemp, a man who has an ability to see patterns in human behaviour. His billionaire boss uses that ability to create profit and power and Jeremiah's skills earn him the nickname "the Forecaster."

But after almost 30 years of forecasting, he sees something so shocking that he suddenly quits. He runs away and tries spectacularly, unsuccessfully to hide from the rest of the world.

Sufferance is on the CBC Books summer 2021 reading list.

King spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Sufferance.

A man of few words

"When I began writing Sufferance, I was into the third or fourth chapter when I realized that I didn't have any dialogue with my main character. So he doesn't talk — you know what he's thinking. People always are trying to guess at what he means by his silence. But he doesn't say a word in the entire book. It was a fun narrative strategy for me."

He doesn't say a word in the entire book. It was a fun narrative strategy for me.

"But it also said something about the character himself. He had gotten to a point in life where there was nothing left to be said as far as he was concerned. He had seen what he needed to see. Now what he wanted to do was just hide. And so that's what he does or tries to at least is not very successful."

Seeking community

"When communities see someone who does not want to participate in the community, nobody goes out to find why he is like that. There's also that sense of pulling somebody back who's been lost. Young Native people who had been through the foster care system and who had no connection to their home communities, not through any fault of their own.

It can be tough because sometimes the community doesn't want you and sometimes you just don't know how to approach the community.

"Many of those people were trying to go back and make those connections. Those connections are hard to make if you weren't born and raised in the community. It can be tough because sometimes the community doesn't want you and sometimes you just don't know how to approach the community. It's quite sad. Sometimes there are no happy endings for those situations. That happens more often in fiction than it does in real life."

The lives of billionaires

"I look at billionaires and I say, 'With all that you could do, you do this?' I object to people who hoard money. I object to people who hoard food. I object to hoarders, basically. There is enough money at the top of our society to have free education, to have free healthcare for everybody. You could make the world such a better place to live in.

There is enough money at the top of our society to have free education, to have free healthcare for everybody.

"We look at the world today. Is it a safe place to be? And it's not. It is not and I think that's one of the reasons that we've allowed this idea of acquisition and wealth and privilege to get out of hand.

"Death is the the last frontier for the super wealthy. It doesn't matter how much money you've got, you're going to die at some point. One of my worries is that somebody may figure out a way to approach immortality. I don't know if we'll ever get to that part, but approaching immortality is a scary, scary thing. It becomes a commodity, life becomes a commodity, and we can buy and sell it and I don't think we can survive that."

Thomas King's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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