Friday, February 18, 2011

THE CANTERBURY TRAIL by Angie Abdou (2011) Brindle and Glass

CBC radio devotees like me will recognize Angie Abdou's name from the recent Canada Reads competition where her first novel THE BONE CAGE (an allusion to BEOWULF, by the way) was championed by Georges Laraque.

From the outset, her new novel THE CANTERBURY TRAIL is about a group of west-coast snow enthusiasts who try to finish out the season with one final spectacular run. Completed as part of a PhD program, the story also appeals to literature geeks like me who will recognize both broad and specific allusions to Chaucer's THE CANTERBURY TALES, a series of competitive stories told by pilgrims to amuse themselves and each other along their journey. So, for example, if you are aware of the "misdirected kiss" and Chaucer's predisposition for lewd and licentious detail, you will happily discover Abdou's contemporary appropriation of it in her savvy detail.

Just as Thomas King has each narrator embellish and one-up the previous storyteller in GREEN GRASS RUNNING WATER, so does Abdou move from Hermit to Ski Bum to Mother to Urbanite to Redneck to Hippy to Miller layering scatological detail and sexual tension until both resolve in unavoidable eruptions that are equal parts amusement and prurient disgust.

When all of the characters find themselves sharing a not-so-idyllic space at Camelot, tempers flare. And, although many of the disgruntled folk manage to make amends, it's only Mother Nature herself who can truly clear the air.

In THE CANTERBURY TRAIL Abdou walks a tightrope, balancing elements of comedy and tragedy with equal poise and shows herself an able inheritor of ribald Chaucerian tradition.

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