Second volume of memoir far less compelling than the first

Robin McGrath
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“On the Goose” is Josie Penny’s second volume of memoirs, and I’m sorry to say that she, and her publishers, have learned very little since the publication on her first book, “So Few On Earth.”

“On the Goose” contains just as many typos and grammatical errors, but is far less compelling than her first volume.

Published by Dundurn Press, “On the Goose” is the story of Penny’s life in Goose Bay as a young married woman with four small children, a series of demanding jobs and an abusive, alcoholic husband. The raw material is inherently interesting, but the really good bits are buried under a mountain of bland, pointless, dull detail. There’s a whole chapter on family pets, another on a camping trip she took with her family, complete with menus. There are also chunks of historical background that sound like they were lifted from an encyclopedia.

One of the more irritating techniques Penny uses to move things along involves literally hundreds of rhetorical questions clustered throughout the text. “Where was I going? What was I doing here? What was happening to me?” or “What was life all about? How did I end up in an abusive marriage? Was I not smart enough to see what was coming?”

My rhetorical question for the author is “Why are you asking me?” These are questions that a book is supposed to answer.

Whenever she runs out of something to say and needs to clew up a chapter, Penny resorts to “Tears, idle tears.” She tells us she “murmured through my tears,” wept “tears of joy,” “tears trickled down his cheeks,” she “cried silently into my pillow,” and so on. There are enough tears here to refloat the old Kyle, so many that the effect of them totally dissipates.

The manuscript was edited by Penny’s daughter, who we are told had just finished a four-year degree at McMaster. McMaster is a good university, but a university degree does not make you into an editor. There are dozens of ill-chosen or incorrect words to stumble over, beginning early on where Penny writes Cartwright when she means Goose Bay and Natuashish when she means Sheshatshiu.

She also uses “adopted” instead of “adoptive,” “laid” for “lay,” “formidable” for “formative,” “gratefully” for “thankfully,” “alright” for “all right,” “piqued” for “peaked,” “Laished” for “craved,” and there’s not a proposition in the dictionary that isn’t abused. She misspells names such as Warr, Rompkey, and Finta, and Nurse Susan was not German, she was British.

The story Penny is trying to tell is of an insecure but plucky little girl making good in life through hard work and determination. The story a dedicated reader can pick out of this mess is of a boom town that grew up in the wilderness. Sometimes Penny’s assumed naiveté is a bit hard to swallow, especially when it is written in what I can only call spelled pronunciation. “Whass dat black stuff on de road,” she asks when she sees pavement for the first time. “Wass it dere for?” This is coming from a 17-year-old who claims to have been a voracious reader of books and movie magazines.

The subtitle of this book is “A Labrador Métis Woman Remembers,” so you would expect it to contain some reference to Penny’s aboriginal heritage. There is none. There is also no discussion of racism—and you can’t tell me there wasn’t racism in Goose Bay in the 60s. There is no discussion at all of Penny’s Inuit heritage. In fact, I don’t think there’s even a mention of race or Inuit in the entire book except for the subtitle.

“On the Goose” makes a great argument for the use of professional editors. A proper editor would have cut this book down by a third, checked names, corrected grammar, removed repetitions and probably spotted most of the typos. A real editor wouldn’t have turned this into a great book, but it certainly would have turned it into a better one.

No doubt, Penny would claim, as she does in the front of the book, that this is her story as she saw and remembered it. However that’s no excuse for not checking facts that are easily established. Hamilton River Road does not go east towards DOT Hill and the docks, it goes west. Warr’s Pharmacy opened in 1964, not 1961. The docks were a civilian operation, not a military one. The list of errors is long and unnecessary.

I hate giving over so much column space to a badly produced book, because even a bad book takes a lot of time and effort to write. I don’t blame the author, I blame the publishers who have a responsibility to protect their writers from reviews such as this one. As a reader, or as a writer, you have a right to a properly edited book with few typographical or grammatical errors, no unnecessary repetitions, a minimum of purple pose and clichés.

Every few weeks, I get a phone call or an email from some hopeful author, asking about publishers. Usually they have been lured by some online scam artist who promises they will edit, print, market and promote their book. They usually want money to do this. Buyer beware. Legitimate publishers don’t ask for money to publish your work — they offer to pay for it. I mention this because when I checked Dundurn online, it looked like a legitimate publisher, not a vanity press. This just goes to show that a publisher, like a plumber, can be legitimate, but simply not very good.  

Robin McGrath is a writer living in Goose Bay.

Organizations: Dundurn Press

Geographic location: Goose Bay, Hamilton River Road, DOT Hill

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