The Next Chapter

Why David Adams Richards wrote a novel about the tragedies of the rich

The acclaimed New Brunswick writer discusses his latest novel, Mary Cyr.
David Adams Richards is an acclaimed Canadian writer, essayist, screenwriter and poet. (Doubleday Canada)

David Adams Richards decided to be a writer at 14 and it has been his vocation ever since. Last summer, he took on the new challenge to represent New Brunswick in the Senate of Canada. His home province has been his muse throughout his 25 books. In his novel Mary Cyr, New Brunswick meets Mexico as an heiress from a wealthy family goes to the Spanish-speaking country in the wake of a mining disaster. The events of her complicated life come to a head when she ends up in a Mexican jail suspected of murdering a 13-year-old boy.

A tarnished reputation

"Mary Cyr's life becomes complicated because her father died when she was 11 and her mother leaves to travel the world. She is an orphan by the time she's 13, goes to a convent and then a private school and is later left to drift. The novel shows what kind of impact this has on her life. I think she is a wonderful human being and a tragic character, a victim of scapegoating. Toward the end of Mary Cyr, we begin to see that she is not the evil debutant people made her out to be. Rather, she's a noble human being."

Dynasties and disputes

"I have written about wealthy people before. But in a way, Mary Cyr is about a New Brunswick situation between the Acadians and the English. The hate-love divide has gone on for three centuries. Within the political realm, divisions around language rights are going to always be there. But one on one with a person you know, there is much less tensions and far more fraternity and friendship. Mary Cyr is part Irish, English and French and could fit into any wealthy family in New Brunswick and they would be happy to have her as part of them."

The traps of fame

"Mexican miners are trapped because the mine owners know they haven't put the recommended safety measures in the mine that Mary's family has instructed them to. They have to close up the mine entrance and pretend that the miners are dead when they are not. Mary becomes blamed for it and this jumpstarts the process of her being scapegoated. Mary is famous for being famous. She is not famous because she's a great concert pianist. She's famous for being a rich lady and that can be more of a curse than anything."

David Adams Richards's comments have been edited and condensed.