Monday, March 26, 2012
WHY NOT? FIFTEEN REASONS TO LIVE by Ray Robertson (2011) Biblioasis, 177 pages
This collection of personal essays was short-listed for the Hilary Weston Writer's Trust of Canada Prize for Nonfiction in 2011.
I've long been a fan of Robertson's clean, visceral prose in his novels MOODY FOOD, GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM and WHAT HAPPENED LATER (a brilliant dual narrative featuring a fictional seventeen-year-old Ray discovering Jack Kerouac and a middle aged Kerouac making the journey to his Quebec roots in the novel he always intended to pen after ON THE ROAD).
In WHY NOT? Robertson lays himself bare, revealing a longtime struggle with OCD and depression by creating a rosary of essays based on issues that matter and motivate him to not only choose but embrace life. Each piece is a worry bead with philosophic grace notes that touched me deeply. From "Work" to "Art" to "Humour" to "Friendship" to "Solitude" to "Duty" to "Death," Robertson held me in his thrall, with prose so direct and resonant that I found myself needing to scribble down his phrasing to return to later.
I especially enjoyed Robertson's munificent reference to poetry throughout the collection, including perfectly placed gems by Baudelaire, William Blake, Raymond Carver, Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, John Updike, W.B. Yeats and this tanka contemplating love by an unknown Japanese poet: "If from your mouth/there hung a hundred-year old tongue/and you would babble/I still would not cease to care/but indeed my love would grow."
The essay that broke me was "Friendship" and the unexpected (though I ought to have expected it) encomium to the canine companions that have shared Ray's life. Like him I have known how it feels to "work side by side for hours without the slightest sense of self-consciousness or unease," and to have one so "unfailingly affirmative, enthusiastic, and energetic" to stand by me. Anyone who doesn't consider the unquestioned love from a dog, the devotion faithfully until his/her end, lacks not only "an understanding of canines, but of friendship. It's not the number of legs that makes a friend."
Take your time with these essays. Your emotional life will be all the richer for it.