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Joan Sullivan: More than 'Half the Lies' engineered to please

Book cover
Book cover - Submitted

Half the Lies You Tell Are Not True
Recitations by Dave Paddon, with illustrations by Duncan Major
Running the Goat Books and Broadsides
$19.95    88 pages

It’s right on that two of this publication’s blurbs come from Buddy Wasisname’s Kevin Blackmore and Giller-nominated poet and novelist Michael Crummey. Dave Paddon’s writing appears to be all crowd-pleasing antics, but like all artistry that seems “easy,” it’s embedded in the most thoughtful and delicate craftsmanship.

The stories interweave N.L .conditions and characters, like in “Fog,” where “We were down on the Burin, somewhere east of the highway, / And would have stopped for the night if I’d had my way. / ’We could get lost in this,” I called to Jim up ahead. / But he kept right on going – ‘This is nothing!’ he said.”

Or “Doctoring,” which tackles the issue of rural medicine.

“Now, Jim wasn’t exactly a doctor, you see. / He hadn’t done med school, and had only grade three. / But he could clean a moose with his eyes closed, and likewise a rabbit. / So surgery was no problem, more like a habit.”

Each piece is carefully structured. As in “Dirty Job”: “So being best of friends, when they weren’t in a fight, / Jim called up Bill and told him his plight. / ‘Be there right away,’ Bill said, ‘I just had a scoff. / I’ll get some gear, you get the ground all scrope off.’”

And this can be calibrated to suit any chosen topic. The weather report in “Flying” is phrased thus: “’Windy,’ said the tower, ‘and a little bit dunch; / I can still see my nose but I can’t see my lunch. / Watch out for small cars and flying tree trunks, / And Bell Island blew away somewhere out round the Funks.’”

Paddon’s play with rhymes are a delight in themselves. In “Vessels,” “Sure, they couldn’t even agree what it was that they had, / And that’s when they went turned off from crousty to mad. / ‘It’s a rodney,’ said Jim, and you’re stunned as a killick!’ / Bill said, ‘’Tis a punt, boy, you foolish old twillick.” The line breaks, too, are deftly orchestrated. With “Berries”: “The Hundred Years’ War is what we call it ‘round here, / And how it got started, nobody’s clear. / Except for yours truly, I remember it yet – / Uncle Jim was at the berries with his first woman, Bette.”

Jim and Bill are recurring characters, although neither equals “Supernan.” “She won 649 five or six times / And she won Super 7, yes, Bob. / But that’s just for fun, and some cash on the side, / ‘Cause bingo’s her regular job.” Not even “Bingo Bear” measures up to her. “Supernan walked over and stood there face to face / (‘Cause Bingo Bear, you know, he was still seated in his place). / ‘Now you,’ she said, ‘I heard about the trouble you been causin’. / You better stop that racket now. Be quiet and haul your claws in.’”

The author himself makes (self-deprecating) appearances, as he reveals in “Man Cold.” “Now one thing upon all husbands agree, as they go through their married lives, / Is that the colds and flu, by which they’re abused, are always much worse than their wives. / Their wives’ flus, I mean, which are never as mean as the colds and flu the men get. / How else to explain that they seem just the same, whatever kind of bug that they get?”

The cadence of the language chimes aloud, even from the page. “The Weather in Town” informs us “The schools are closed, all flights called off, downtown is shut down mostly, / But Ryan and and Eddie got our backs – they’re watching this one closely, / The regiment is all deployed with standby generators / For all the downtown Tim’s, and Mary Brown’s got extra taters.”

Then there’s “Hockey Night in Labrador.” “But the NHL, for sure, was not the only game around; / We had a wicked team ourselves, for such a little town. / The Jets is what we called them, and they made the bad guys quake. / They were known and feared by all the teams from ‘Strivver to Mud Lake.”

Duncan Major’s colour illustrations add visual punch and panache to the textual entertainment. Which is considerable. Take “Man of La Manche.” “Now I s’spose you have all heard about those alien abductions, / And you’ve drawn your own conclusions, or made your own deductions. / Or p’raps you yourself was taken once while driving in your car, / And you was probed and poked and woke up with this funny looking scar.”

 “Half the Lies” includes 13 pieces, with a glossary of Newfoundland and Labrador terms (i.e. ‘Strivver nickname for Northwest River”), making for an informative, as well as witty, read.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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