Two new books by Muskoka writers have arrived in time for the holiday gift giving season: Paul Feist’s Broken Anchor and Square Wheels by David Bruce Patterson. Both historical, both set in Canada, these funny, tragic, coming-of-age novels offer readers poignant takes on the struggles we all face in striving to do the right thing. But their bountiful I-did-not-know-that! historical tidbits and sunny laugh-out-loud moments are welcome relief as we head into this strange, stay-at-home 2021 Muskoka winter season.
Muskokans will know author Paul Feist as a humorist, writer, and actor who says he’s been in the biz since “the earth was cooling”. Feist has appeared on stage in multiple theatre and television productions, and his weekly humour columns in The Muskoka Sun captured the rollick and roll of Muskoka country living from 1993 to 2007. His latest work is Broken Anchor, a 1950s adventure/romance tracing a year-in-the-life of a cocky kid named Dan Dawson as he toiled on a Great Lakes tanker. And while the there’s plenty of ‘inside reveal’ of life on a gritty ship carrying cargo for the British American Oil Company—brothels and backstreet bars included—at the book’s core is a light-hearted story of friendship, family, and love. It’s the coming-of-age efforts of a boisterous kid trying to do right by his mother, girlfriend(s), and closest ship mate.
The book opens at its finish: now best-selling author Dan Dawson receives a late-night call from the daughter of a mentor Dawson met years ago—a dying man who once saved Dawson’s life and to whom Danny owes more than just gratitude. The call throws Dawson back in time to recall a year of living dangerously. An aspiring young journalist lusting after a girl from high school, Dawson forces himself to put his dreams and his voluptuous girlfriend aside to take on a menial job as cook’s assistant on the SS Britamoco. His single mother’s spendthrift habits have tossed the family into crushing debt; it’s up to Danny to bail them out. Dawson’s well-paid year on the ship takes both boy and reader on a high-lakes / high-seas adventure filled with danger, fights with first mates, and unflinching nights ashore in what ladies of the day would have called “houses of ill repute”. But while Danny’s losing his pride, his dreams, and his virginity, he’s also learning what it is to be a man, to do right by the women he loves, and to stand by the friends who’ve stood by him. Danny doesn’t always get it right, but he sure-as-hell tries. In Broken Anchor, Paul Feist’s first full-length novel succeeds in reminding us that it’s okay to make mistakes in life as long as we don’t give up on our dreams and remember to pay homage to those who helped us achieve them.
Broken Anchor ($20) is currently available in Bracebridge at Majestic Hair Design, Martins Framing Centre, and Worth Repeating, or by contacting Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Square Wheels: A Family Saga of the 1920s
Many Bracebridge-ites recognize David Bruce Patterson as our dandy man-about-town. The author is an avid contributor to town life, serving his church, political campaigns, Friends of the Library, and the Muskoka Authors’ Association with verve and dedicaiton. An accomplished poet, Patterson’s daily morning routine includes capturing life’s quirks via widely read Facebook posts that are both poetic and witty. He’s also a regular food-and-drink contributor to MuskokaStyle. In Square Wheels, his first full-length novel, the author takes us back to the Roaring 1920s of Toronto, a world filled with dance halls, silent-movie cinemas, and jazz music—a city just establishing itself as Toronto The Good, but not quite there yet.
This is not a fast read, but rather a long, slow, insightful dip into a Toronto lost in time. Fashion, food, transportation, even vacation-friendly Muskoka in the 1920s are revealed in Square Wheels, which traces the trials and tribulations of the Conor family. Faced with tragedy, levity, struggles with mental health, women’s rights, and the search for social justice, the Conors are both resilient and resplendent, but also oh-so-tragic. There’s Siofra, a vivacious young girl filled with street smarts and a sense of mischief. Nessa, her sister, whose ambition and love of fashion force her to choose between an untraditional career and a traditional marriage. Abigail, their mother, a suffragette determined to see her husband succeed and her daughters achieve in a world that’s not set up for the success of young women. And Eamon—husband, father, cornerstone of the book—who is brilliant yet troubled; Patterson describes this tragic character as both “mechanically dexterous and psychotic”. Add a Toronto street car disaster that throws the Conor family, their friends, and all of the city into peril and you’ve got a saga that’ll stay with you long after you’ve turned the last pages.
Square Wheels ($25) can be purchased by contacting David at email@example.com. Copies can also be purchased at the Heron’s Nest Gallery, 95 Muskoka Rd., Bracebridge. Call ahead 705-646-3663.