Hugh Garner Miriam Waddington - Essay

Miriam Waddington

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hugh Garner has often been praised for his good heart when it is really his good ear and sharp eye that deserve our admiration. It is no use to praise him for his compassion because it is a matter of grace whether a writer has it or not, and a matter of cultural conditioning whether a reader values it or not. But a good ear for dialogue, speech rhythms, and local semantic nuances cannot be brushed aside as easily as mere goodness of heart.

The way a novelist hears words and uses them, has to do with all the complex problems of language, and even of culture. Speech is a form of action, and in the area of dialogue—which is action between characters—Garner stands out among his Canadian contemporaries. (p. 72)

Garner also makes a completely selfconscious and natural use of local place names, brand names and celebrity names. Any Canadian reader will easily recognize, scattered through Garner's pages, his own favourite beer, political party and TV show; he'll even find his most familiar moral dilemmas. And if anyone is still searching for that elusive now-you-have-it-now-you-don't Canadian identity he need search no further. Canada may claim two or more identities, but Garner conveys at least one of them through the conversations, attitudes and secrets of the characters who inhabit his small town. He is also the only writer I know of who has managed to capture what E. K. Brown called the mysterious and obnoxious quality...

(The entire section is 478 words.)