I was hooked from the first sentence.
I wanted – needed – to know what happened next. What I Want To Tell Goes Like This, a collection of short stories set in Cumberland, Comox and various places in between, is dark, gritty and very seductive.
Former Comox Valley resident Matt Rader is launching his new book at the Comox Valley Art Gallery in downtown Courtenay on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. The event is hosted by the North Island College Write Here Reading Series with books for sale courtesy Laughing Oyster Book Shop.
Admission is free.
12 years in the making
Rader, an award-winning author of three books of poems, says he’s been working on What I Want To Tell Goes Like This off and on since 2002.
“Although none of the original text exists anymore, I feel like that’s when the book started,” he explains.
The stories shift back and forth from the labour unrest of coal mining in the early 1900s to young families finding their way in a contemporary setting. But the narrative shares a commonality of place and character: ordinary folks stumbling through life, not always sure where they’re going or what they’re supposed to do if and when they get there.
Although real people and events are major elements of some stories Rader makes no claims to historical accuracy.
“They’re not entirely out of my imagination either,” he says. “That’s why I call them stories. I hope people will read the book as a whole as there are tiny things that connect the stories and time frames.”
Many of the tales share threads of darkness in the way of death, violence and the will to survive or take place in an uneasy edge of working class communities.
“I’m attracted to moments of ambiguity and conflict, intractable moments in lives that don’t want to settle into one thing or another,” says Rader, who grew up in the Comox Valley in the 1980s and ’90s.
“My father was a heavy equipment operator and my mother was a social worker,” he continues. “Their friends were boilermakers, fallers, carpenters, soldiers from CFB Comox, other social workers, mailmen and schoolteachers. I wanted to write about the people I knew and the place I was from.”
Radar’s got a distinctive writing style that grabs hold of the reader and doesn’t let go. He crafts long sentences that make you want to read them again and doesn’t shy away from articulating the things we all think about but seldom say.
There’s an intimate feel to this collection. It’s almost as if instead of turning pages, the reader is sitting around the kitchen table with friends sharing a late night cup of tea or, more likely, a can of Lucky.
As a youngster, Rader lived in Comox where he attended Brooklyn Elementary and Highland Secondary.
He penned his first poem in grade school and studied writing at the University of Victoria, Banff Centre for the Arts and obtained an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon.
But he never thought of himself as a writer until he moved to Vancouver in his early 30s.
“Often writing, especially poetry, doesn’t seem to have a lot of social value,” he says. “People don’t think of it as a something a person would want to do with their life.”
Rader’s biggest challenge is getting time to be creative.
“A lot of that time isn’t writing, it’s walking in the woods and thinking,” he says. “That sort of behaviour isn’t supported in our culture, it’s not seen as accomplishing anything.”
When asked about his writing process he replies, “I wish I had one. I go through life collecting ideas that interest me and when enough – but not too much – of a story is there I sit down and start arranging it. I try to make enough time in my day-to-day life to do that.”
But a young family and fulltime job aren’t always conducive to contemplation and writing. To finish What I Want To Tell Goes Like This, Rader spent a couple of weeks at a friend’s farm in Ireland.
“The nearest village is 11 km away and my friend is a poet so he’s good about leaving me alone,” says Rader.
The 36-year old lived in Cumberland and taught writing at North Island College for the last four years.
In August he was appointed associate professor of creative writing at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan and relocated to Kelowna.
Previous books include A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle over the River Arno, Living Things and Miraculous Hours, which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.
Rader’s work has appeared in numerous literary publications throughout North America, Australia and Europe and has been nominated for awards such as the Journey and Pushcart Prize.
The last story in What I Want To Tell Goes Like This – “All This Was A Long Time Ago” – received the 2014 Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award for fiction from The Malahat Review.
What I Want To Tell Goes Like This (256 pgs., softcover) is published by Nightwood Editions and retails for $21.95.