Monday, November 5, 2012

Canadian Pie by Will Ferguson

Me at Ferguson's  event at
Edmonton Litfest in 2011
(photo by Donna Fong)
Since I haven't yet read Will Ferguson's Giller Prize-winning 419, I've decided to review Canadian Pie instead, which I read last year. It's a collection of light and funny short pieces that have been previously published in various magazines and newspapers since the mid-1990s.

Most Canadians will identify with Ferguson's self-deprecating humour in Canadian Pie, and will likely have read at least some of this work elsewhere. Ferguson has won the Stephen Leacock medal for humour three times -- there is no question that he is funny. I like best, however, when his heart is at the forefront.

Rodeo week is upon us in Edmonton, so I'll pull an example from 'Father's Day and the Brothers Hardy':

"When I took Alex to the Calgary Stampede he was five years old and wearing a hat with a plastic whistle. I wanted my son to see the bull riders and chuckwagon races; I hadn't thought about the calf-roping. By the time the second calf had been yanked off its feet and tied down Alex was in tears. 'Make them stop,' he said. 'Make them stop.'

It's a burden and a glory, being a dad. It's the one time in your life when someone really believes in you, really believes that you can stand up in the middle of a grandstand filled with twenty thousand people and say loudly, firmly, in much the same manner as you'd announce it's time for bed and no more dilly-dallying, 'This has to stop. Right now! I'm sorry, but I'm the Dad and you have to stop hurting those little cows.'"

We all got to make pie at
Edmonton Litfest in 2012
(photo by Donna Fong)
There are plenty of strong pieces included in Canadian Pie, but the quality is not consistent. Some of the writing is hackneyed and a few of the articles are dated. In 'Mind the Gap!' (which is from an introduction he wrote for an edition of Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town) Ferguson writes: "Analyzing humour, it's been said, is a lot like dissecting a frog. You may learn something about anatomy in the process, but the frog itself usually dies." Just five pages earlier, in 'Dead Politicians,' Ferguson carefully explains why a certain joke is funny.

Two of Ferguson's novels, Spanish Fly and 419, are about con games. The germ of both books can be found in 'Pedigreed Pooches and Spanish Prisoners' which opens: "Dear reader, I am the son and/or widow of an exiled Nigerian diplomat." It ends with tongue-in-cheek, yet sage, advice on how to avoid being conned. I'm looking forward to reading 419 -- although with over 200 people ahead of me on the waiting list at the library it'll be a while before I get to it.

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