New Found Land
A novel by Herbert F. Hopkins
Words and Wood Publishing
234 pages $18.95
“New Found Land” is author Herbert Hopkins’s third in his trilogy of novels centred on Luke Delaney, St. John’s-based travel writer, bohemian and dreamer. (Like the others it’s fronted by a gorgeous work-of-art cover from Boyd Chubbs.)
Luke’s usual frame of mind is poetic, restless, periodically dark but essentially humoured and upbeat. But this book opens to find him in a dark place. A car accident really hurt his back, and he was prescribed opiates for the pain. Like so many other patients given a legal substance with a purported low possibility of addiction, Luke was quickly dependent on them. He’s managed to quit more than once, but always has come back to them.
Luke’s partner, Angéline, from New Orleans and of Haitian background, is standing by him; their relationship is strong: “If he and Angéline so much as touched the same branch together when they were berry-picking, Luke could feel the connection between them.”
She, too, has her troubles. She’s having strange, often terrible dreams, of falling, snakes, sorrow. Their effect shadows her day, and increasingly occupies her mind.
The setting of St. John’s is as much a character as either of them. Come Friday night, Luke heads out from his South Side Road home to meet his friend Mossy at their chosen haunt:
The Ship had the best stage in St. John’s, maybe the world. It was one of the few things in the City of Dreams that never changed.
Artists came from everywhere to play the Ship, but mostly it was local acts, strutting down over the hill to bury themselves in the night. The sound was always good; a big man took care of that. He seemed to live there, fitted into a corner in front of his board. Backstage was a kitchen, a tight muddle of fridges and fryers. Barely enough room to turn a phrase. Some of the Ship’s performers blossomed, others died on the tree and some fell from grace. But everyone came back.
But Luke can’t settle into their normal routine of a “few pints and a couple of stories. … Everything was annoying him. And a woman at the bar wouldn’t shut up.” He leaves early, and finds Caleb, a blind musician who lives mostly on the city streets, accompanied by his faithful dog, Blackjack, “a boxer cross, white from tip to tail. Cops ignored the off-leash dog; no one had ever complained about him.” Luke knows Caleb — everyone knows Caleb — and he’s gotten into the habit of sharing his pills with him.
Luke’s struggle with his habit comes to the attention of Dr. Liliana Sanchez, a pharmacologist who defected from Cuba in the early 1990s during a refuelling stop at Gander on the Havana-Moscow route.
“When Liliana wasn’t working, she was reading, and when she wasn’t reading, she volunteered at a methadone clinic. … every person who worked and volunteered there cared enough for a dozen people. And no one cared more than Liliana Sanchez.”
She sees how the clients suffer. And she knows who’s responsible for that pain: Big Pharma. “They spent millions of dollars on sales representatives and advertising … Addiction was big business. But recovery was even bigger …” She wants to fight their dominance. And she has a plan.
Liliana gave up many things when she left Cuba, and one was her nephew, Pedro Cienfuegos. He was just a boy the last time she saw him, but he’s now grown and, in Cuba, revered for his pitching in the near-religion of baseball. Fate seems to favour bringing them back together, and that will give Liliana the last detail for her plan.
She contacts Luke and convinces him to enrol in a highly experimental trial. Not that he takes much persuading: he wants to jettison this fix, and besides, he trusts her. So much that he takes all the pain medication in his house and gives it to Caleb. He means it as a favour, but unfortunately it causes Caleb some grief. The police, in the persona of Inspector Myrick, need to do some symbolic clearance of the city’s drug problem. And Caleb and Blackjack are vulnerable targets.
The drama swirls with currents of doctrine, rites, and international politics. For example, one significant event is the death of Fidel Castro, “hero, dictator, executioner, president, revolutionary, socialist, rebel, communist, victorious, loved, arrogant, tactician, tyrant, soldier, comrade, philosopher, devil, god, brave, charismatic, guerilla, prisoner, opportunist. The only word everyone agreed on was dead.” These broaden the story internationally; there are many New Found Lands.
Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.