J. R. (Tim) Struthers

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674

In his imagination Hugh Hood has outlined a twelve-book epic on Canadian life entitled The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, which he intends to complete by the year 2000. The first part in this extraordinary project is The Swing in the Garden, a fictional story of an art historian's boyhood in and near Toronto during the thirties. The Swing in the Garden is a novel, an extended "digressive" essay, an autobiography, a topographical map, a snapshot album or documentary film, a history book, a philosophical work, a piece of socialist rhetoric, a commentary on national economic policy, and a dream-vision allegory. The Swing in the Garden is all of these things; but in essence it is the beginning of an elaborate social mythology, a detailed examination of part of the Canadian style.

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Hood focuses on a great social revolution in the mid-thirties [which involved a radical lengthening of the expected duration of one's formal schooling and] which eventually remade the then predominantly rural and small-town character of Canadian life. (p. 518)

What raises the personal story of Matt Goderich to the level of a national myth or epic is the fictional shaping of Hood's own autobiographical materials, seen, for example, in the dating of Matt's birth in 1930 (Hood was born in 1928) and his father's, Andrew Goderich's, birth in 1900. Hood's partial modelling of the career of Andrew Goderich on that of professor and socialist thinker Frank Underhill has the same elevating effect. Even more generally, the structuring of The Swing in the Garden between the Biblical archetypes of the garden and the Fall underlines the novel's universality.

The Swing in the Garden moves from microcosm to macrocosm, from Matt's relations with his family and friends to Toronto life, to Canadian life and beyond, to archetypes, though, of course, all of these seemingly outer dimensions telescope and are really contained within Matt's particular experience. Individual situations mirror world history. The dawning consciousness of Matthew Goderich in this novel reflects the consciousness of Canadian society in the process of gaining awareness of its position in the world.

Although Matthew emphasizes that the Canadian style is interiorized, he expresses great interest in its more obvious outward manifestations or symbols, especially the successive forms of communication and transportation, which are each generation's iconography, by which we are able to judge our age. Matthew Goderich's fascination is centered initially on the garden swing, but it expands until he becomes, like Hood, an explorer and a mapmaker of the entire social mythology of Canadian life.

The grandness of Hood's conception of delineating Canada's social mythology would, in itself, qualify his project as an important achievement in modern literature. But in The Swing in the Garden this accomplishment is matched by a finely polished prose and a significant technical innovation. The story is presented through the expanding and contracting consciousness of Matthew Goderich, whose consciousness will shrink to record exact childhood impressions of the thirties, or momentarily widen to make a vitriolic attack on the ineptitude of the Ontario Government in the seventies. Matthew's consciousness also expands and contracts in that having evaluated different experiences it selects some for more detailed scrutiny while treating others more briefly.

This handling of narrative point of view is perfectly adapted to the view, expressed in the novel, of "the elasticity of time," a theory which insists on a "double-chronology, psychological 'felt' time and that of the calendar." This sophisticated device for the handling of time in narrative fiction might appear to resemble Margaret Laurence's use of a double narrative flow, past and present, in The Stone Angel and The Diviners, but it is more fluid, more subtle, less obviously manipulated—expanding and contracting, like the breathing of a living thing, rather than simply running parallel.

Such a wedding of conception, material, prose style, and technique is the signature of a master. (pp. 518-19)

J. R. (Tim) Struthers, in a review of "The Swing in the Garden" (copyright © 1976 by J. R. (Tim) Struthers; reprinted by permission of the author), in Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 3, Autumn, 1976, pp. 518-19.

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