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Megan Gail Coles tackles Newfoundland and Labrador's classism, sexism, and racism in debut novel

“I want everyone to understand that the motivation for writing the novel was to help us face some things that we’ve been avoiding for a very long time about our province,” says Megan Gail Coles about her novel.
“I want everyone to understand that the motivation for writing the novel was to help us face some things that we’ve been avoiding for a very long time about our province,” Megan Gail Coles says about her novel. Coles is pictured at Philippa Jones' "Suspended" exhibition at The Rooms. - Juanita Mercer
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Imagine trying to write a novel about all of the problems you think the province is facing right now.

Or don’t — it’s already been done.

Megan Gail Coles calls her debut novel “Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club” an “epic narrative about everything that I think is troubling Newfoundland right now.”

Those things, she says, are classism, sexism, and racism — in equal parts.

Ask Coles a question about either, and you’ll likely be in for a talk in which she revisits several hundred years’ worth of the province’s history in explanation of how things got to this point.

She’ll throw in tidbits about her upbringing in Savage Cove on the Northern Peninsula during the cod moratorium.

Despite the novel’s angry, demanding tones, Coles said writing it was an act of love.

“I do love where I’m from, and I did choose to make my home here, and I am down in the trenches full-time with my community members fighting to make this place livable in a way that benefits all of us and not just the select few.

“So, I have written a novel that does explore some of our least beautiful aspects, but it is an attempt to acknowledge the fact that (problems) are there so we might resolve them.”

While it’s Coles’ debut novel, she is no stranger to writing fiction. Her first collection of short fiction, “Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome”, won the BMO Winterset Award, the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award and the Writers’ Trust 5X5 Prize.

She’s also executive director of Riddle Fence, a journal of arts and culture in the province.

Coles began writing "Small Game Hunting" three years ago.

During that time, the province witnessed allegations of gender harassment at the Spaniard’s Bay Fire Department, and there was public outcry when Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove was acquitted of sexual assault.

“There were so many instances in the last three years where I found myself on the steps of the courthouse with many of the same people, just disheartened,” Coles said, her hands outstretched as she sat in a chair at The Rooms while speaking with The Telegram.

She glanced out the massive windows as soft snow swirled over downtown St. John’s.

The peaceful scene seemed to stir something inside her. She spoke passionately and quickly, calling the novel “a declaration of war on misogyny.”

“It’s kind of a rally cry to my progressive community members — very much encouraging them to not retreat in this moment where we seem to have come up against a wall with regards to how our society is moving forward.

Book cover
Book cover

“I think, in history, every time a society is on the precipice of moving into a different, potentially more advantageous or equal stage, there’s a lot of push-back, and unfortunately the push-back that we’re feeling right now is taking on very violent, very sinister forms.”

It’s an idea explored in "Small Game Hunting", as the novel follows several characters embroiled in what the synopsis calls “a storm system of sex, betrayal, addiction and hurt” in which two women confront past traumas in order to overcome their present.

Coles said it’s not meant to be an easy read.

In fact, the first three pages contain one warning to the reader to expect violence, and another encouraging the reader to “Be brave.”

“I want everyone to understand that the motivation for writing the novel was to help us face some things that we’ve been avoiding for a very long time about our province.”

At the top of that list for Coles is the statistic that a woman is murdered every 2 1/2 days in Canada.

“In Newfoundland, when that happens, we say that never happens here. But it does. We have a violence against women and marginalized people issue in our province and pretending that it doesn’t happen — that it’s not happening right now — puts more people in danger. People like Chantel John, who is the most recent victim of domestic violence.”

Coles says women experiencing domestic violence often don’t have the autonomy to leave the situation because of financial reasons.

“Women in Newfoundland only get paid 63 cents on the dollar — on a man’s dollar. That’s the average — that’s the average.

“That is not factoring in when you’re further marginalized. If you’re rural/remote, undereducated, above a certain age — that 63 cents decreases pretty quickly. So, we put people in danger by not giving them the access to resources that they need in order to remain safe, and the book wants everyone in Newfoundland to be safe.”

“Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club” launches Thursday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. at Eastern Edge Gallery. It’s on sale now at Broken Books on Duckworth Street.

[email protected]

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

Related story:

Megan Gail Coles' 'Falling Trees' debuts Wednesday

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