Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada. Alan Casey.

Casey, Alan. Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada. Greystone Vancouver. NF; 1/11.

I bought this because the author is a Greystone “colleague”, who however is successful, and won the Governor General’s Literary Award. “He’s a beautiful writer” my editor wistfully trailed when I was there one day, generous as ever in her ellipsis of “…unlike you.” Well he is. It takes one to make something worth reading of this kind of discursive description of … lakes. As he says himself, there’s no substitute in pictures, words, or music, for the experience (of wandering around and hiking over various kinds of wilderness and staring out at landlocked bodies of water). And of course over and over again explaining to us as if it were the first time we’ve ever heard it, the David Suzuki message. Over and over.

Part of the interest in the writing comes from his clever journalist’s habit of quoting scientific facts. The volume of water under the surface, dramatic temperature changes, the species of fish and their devastation as a result of hatcheries, etc. But then we get “Perhaps the water molecule itself — one hydrogen atom joined to two atoms of oxygen — is Persephone’s pomegranate seed, balancing the seasons, life itself, on a fine point.” Lovely sentiment, but that molecule doesn’t exist in this universe. Where was the editor? You have to wonder how much of the other intriguing factual information that helps us to take his grasp of reality seriously is similarly picked up off the floor without even bothering to google it. Maybe it doesn’t matter…

With the entertainer’s natural instinct for his audience, Mr. Casey prevents us from finally tiring of mistakes and tedious moralizing by telling us about women. Chatting with him on the love seat swing on the porch, joining him in her green bikini in the warm lake, waving cheekily from the decks of runabouts, all amiably delighted with the company of the thoughtful solitary traveler who has to sleep somewhere at night… We are encouraged not to worry too much about the little wife, briefly described ironing and digging in the yard back home.

But in the end it doesn’t matter, because even for me, dirty old envious grudging chewer of the bitter seeds in my scrivener’s sour grapes, he’s got the gift of the gab. 4.8/8.1.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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