Jamie Fitzpatrick’s debut novel is, on the face of it a book about a early-middle-aged man who plays recreational hockey and who is dealing with a number of personal crises. Since I am none of those things, the book didn’t instantly shout “read me,” despite the fact that, like me, Fitzpatrick hails from Newfoundland.
So the book sat with me for a while. Then recently, I was grading papers until midnight and I was tired, but because I have to read before I can sleep, I pulled out my Kobo to finish the Steve Jobs biography. The Kobo was dead. Then I spied You Could Believe in Nothing (Vagrant), sitting unhappily unread in a corner. The good old print book.
Once I’d picked it up, though, it was difficult to put down. Which I did at four a.m., and only then because the book fell on my face. You Could Believe in Nothing is simply a great piece of writing. The cadence of the dialogue, the stomach-clenching evocations of loss and shame, the simplicity of words in conversations loaded with meaning all undeniably and seamlessly collide in the main character, Derek’s, unraveling life.
There is a frankness, a sharpness in the banter between the recreational hockey players that extend into the relationships within Derek’s somewhat dysfunctional, but probably more normal than not, family.
Fitzpatrick’s keen ear for nuances in conversation and even keener eye for the backdrops of life, take the reader into places they probably would not have chosen to visit on their own, but are better off having experienced.
This is not just a book about men playing hockey in dark, dank arenas during the unpredictable March winds in St. John’s even though, through Fitzpatrick’s descriptions, you want to pull your coat a little tighter. This is a book that will touch the part of you that gets up in the morning and carries on like any other day, but also the part that is just a little weary of family and relationship drama, the part that uncomfortably relates to Derek’s life.
The secret is that no one is normal. No family is typical and no relationship is simple. And the snippets of Derek’s life that the author shares with us, reassure us and tells us we all have family secrets, dysfunctions and craziness. It is what makes us human and it is how we keep on moving forward, seeking the ideal we will never -- and secretly probably don't want to -- find that makes life the interesting journey it is. ◊
Suzanne Norman is the director of the Publishing Workshops at Simon Fraser University. She is also the director of the upcoming BCreative 2012 Conference and Showcase, and an instructor in the undergraduate minor in publishing program at SFU. A former newspaper reporter, YA book editor, and graduate of SFU’s Master of Publishing program, Norman has had a varied career from St. John’s to Vancouver, loving and promoting reading along the way.