Guy Vanderhaeghe’s latest novel might remind you of Trump

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August into Winter

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Guy Vanderhaeghe

McClelland & Stewart

When he reached the final lap of his powerful new novel, August Into Winter, Guy Vanderhaeghe assumed he knew everything there was to know about the predatory monster that haunts its 472 pages.

But then his editor at McClelland & Stewart told him that this nightmare creation reminded her of Donald Trump. “And I had to agree,” Vanderhaeghe says now.

Incidentally, this best-selling writer’s first novel in a decade is an explosive thriller set in a sad time in history, beginning in the fading peaceful days before the outbreak of war in 1939 and ending weeks later on Remembrance Day with almost a day. biblical confrontation amid a devastating Saskatchewan snowstorm. This is a novel in which the elements of nature rage both initially and finally.

There is also a love story here and meditations on war, resilience and the weakness of truth in a society fed by lies. “But I always wanted the book to have momentum because I quickly discovered that this would be the longest novel I’ve ever written,” Ride admits to Vanderhaeghe.

That impetus would come from the book’s fascinating account of the hunt for a brutal young socialite named Ernie Sickert, whose murder of an RCMP officer in a storm-soaked rural Saskatchewan unleashes a terrible rage of violence. Ernie is a narcissistic, self-absorbed fancier, furious against a system that always misunderstands him and does him harm, and obsessed with the impressionable 12-year-old child who is sanctified in his mind as the love of his life. In the novel, Ernie sometimes seems like a grotesque cosmic joke cruelly imposed on a society struggling to get out of depression even when it has to face the reality of another war.

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“I actually believe that evil is a presence in the world,” Vanderhaeghe says bluntly. “And there’s often something funny about really terrible, dangerous people. There can be something ridiculous and almost pathetic about them. So we have those elements in Ernie – but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous, somehow his narcissism and his vanity and his fantasies make him terribly dangerous – so he’s kind of Trump-like. “

Vanderhaeghe, now 70, won three Governor-General’s Awards by treading his own distinctive fictional path. “To some degree, I have a history of using shapes that are considered‘ genre ’and then twisting them a bit,” he says of his Saskatoon home. “It may seem pretentious to say this to me, but I think there’s something about genre fiction that I think literary fiction sometimes ignores at its own risk – and that’s a sense of impetus.”

But this would also provide the basis for an examination of other concerns. “At least in my mind, one can still ask questions about how to negotiate all sorts of things – political questions, political change, how an individual acts in greater social and historical circumstances.”

The novel also reminds us of the delicate milk of civilization – beginning and ending with ferocious climate attacks that break a world whose modern safeguards we can foolishly take as granted. Vanderhaeghe dedicated the book to his parents, “who endured fifteen years of drought, depression and war without surrendering to despair or losing sight of what really matters.”

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Such themes figure into the impact Ernie Sickert’s lethal belt has on three main characters. Vidalia Taggart is a disgraced teacher from Winnipeg seeking to rebuild her life in a foreign rural culture, her only consolation the journals of a lover who died fighting for the left in the Spanish Civil War. Oliver and Jack Dill are two brothers, both carrying emotional scars from the First World War, who lead a manhunt in the middle of a world that has been essentially closed due to bad weather conditions.

The novel’s seed was planted 60 years ago when a 10-year-old Guy and his mother visited the RCMP Museum in Regina. “I remember seeing this horrible exhibit – RCMP Stetson with a big hole in it and a hammer next to it.” These objects were memorabilia of the murder of an RCMP officer in Vanderhaeghe’s hometown around the outbreak of war. Back then, there was only one RCMP officer serving the community “so when she was killed, according to my father, a group of veterans of the First World War were formed to chase the killer.”

Vanderhaeghe, whose career was sensationally launched with the publication of Man Descending in 1982, has remained haunted for decades by this story of World War I veterans pursuing a murderer. But it wasn’t until he was in his 60s that he decided to use it as inspiration for a novel.

“I used to tell my students about creative writing – if you have an idea that bothers you, maybe it wants to be written. So I guess that was my motivation for starting this book (but) things can go on for a very long time. “

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So at last he found himself tapping into the real past with August In Winter. But unlike that troubled real-life killer of history, Ernie Sickert is much more scary. As for Donald Trump – well, Vanderhaeghe realizes now that he was dealing with “some sort of Trump obsession” when he was working on the final stages of the novel.

At the time, he didn’t think he had consciously modeled Ernie on Trump – “but now that it’s been pointed out to me, he’s at least like Trump. Ernie is self-pitying. Everything that happens to him is someone else’s fault, and he projects his fantasies the way Trump does – just thinking that if something is true to him, that really makes it true – then yes, there are very strong similarities. “

This veteran author likes to be able to surprise himself when he starts a new story.

“I never want things to be too solid because if they’re planned, I lose what I call the writing adventure,” he explains. “I’m less prone to happy accidents.”

However, he can be ruthless if he thinks he made a false start. He can be 250 pages into a book just to find himself so unhappy about how it’s going that he’s starting over. “Writing for me somehow is always learning to write again,” he says simply. “That’s because every book I write requires something different.”

– Jamie Portman

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