David Adams Richards has been whispered of in Canlit conversations since he was an undergrad in at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. Richards cut his teeth at the Ice House, a well-known retreat for Atlantic Canadian writers during the 1960’s. He didn’t even finish his undergrad, as his unfinished novel The Coming of Winter was picked up for a prize and publication.
Since then, he’s won both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award and shared with the former with Michael Ondaatje. He was recently named to the Order of Canada. He’s published over a dozen novels and he’s won major prizes for his non-fiction work as well.
His New Brunswick is found almost primarily along the Miramichi River and features the dejected and beautiful small towns that dot the big river’s banks. His characters struggle with absolute concepts of pure good and evil, sin and redemption. At moments of critical high tide, reviewers liken him to the Great Russian novels of the 19th century.
But there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of him. Maybe it’s his working class characters—or perhaps, for the bourgeois for us to relate to the beautiful bleakness of Richards’ New Brunswick. Maybe it’s Richards’ closeness to his characters—there is little ironic distance in the struggling figures of his fiction.
But trust me, he’s really, really good writer and an important one in Canadian fiction.
Here are five David Adams Richards novels you should read so this guy can even get a shred of Margaret Atwood’s zombie-like idolatry.
In no particular order, here is a sample of Richards’ works:
4. Nights Below Station Street (1988)
This is the first in his Miramichi Trilogy and centers around Joe Walsh, his close and extended family in a mill town. It won the Governor General Award for Fiction and it’s really not that long, nor does it have any big words, so you don’t really have an excuse. Richards masterfully ties together the dependent characters to the each other. There is love in this narrative, but also great loss. The stuff of Greek tragedy, transplanted on the snowy backroads of Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
3 Blood Ties (1976)
An earlier work, Blood Ties is definitely a tougher read than Station Street. I would recommend being a couple novels deep into Richards before tackling this one. But once you do—and once you get past the unfamiliar names and ensemble cast—you are rewarded with some beautiful descriptive passage of life in New Brunswick. Poverty, guns, drinking and family all take centre stage next to Richards’ dark and powerful Atlantic Ocean. It’s not light stuff, but then again, the truth rarely is.
2. For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down (1993)
This was nominated for the GG’s award and made it a decent T.V. movie. Employing characters from Station Street, Richards tells the tale of Jerry Bines—equally compelling and frustrating to those around him and to Richards’ audience. Richards takes a more avant-garde approach to this novel, with impressionistic chapters and fractured interior monologues. This novel is a fitting progression for a man who pretty much sticks to one river, in one province, in one country.
1. Lines on the Water (2001)
Again, Richards takes us to the Miramichi, but this time he tells it’s his non-fiction account of fly-fishing. Essential reading for anyone who’s tried the sport—which as Richards points out is much more than a recreational activity for man. A River Runs Through It, this isn’t. It’s a refreshing chance for to get a glimpse of Richards in his home environment, enveloped by his muse.