My review of Kevin Canty’s splendid novel Winslow in Love appears in today’s Chicago Tribune. You may remember that when I was working on the review in the Spring, I enlisted ALN readers’ help in thinking of books within books, with highly edifying and fun results. For the purposes of the review, this merely helped me gird a point made in passing, but the exercise took on a life of its own–I heard from dozens of you, and the topic was taken up fruitfully at other blogs.
Like I said, none of this had to do with Canty’s novel in a direct way. His title character Winslow is a poet, but none of his poetry appears in the book. It’s through other, more subtle means that Canty makes the reader think of Winslow as, in all probability, a good poet–for instance, though his perceptions of the natural world:
In the last half of the book, for instance, there is a criminally good chapter detailing a single Sunday when spring makes its first appearance in Montana. Winslow, cheered, drives out into the mountains to fish. The loss of his wife, the arrival of Jones, his writer’s block, the cancerous skin lesion he has just had removed–all of these troubles dissolve in the soft spring air until, at the apex of this very good day, he reels in a sizable trout:
“He was about to throw him back in the water but decided at the last moment to kill him and keep him. He assumed this was legal. There was nobody around, anyway. He dashed the head of the big trout against a big rock on the bank and the silver body, the beautiful thing, shuddered and died.
“He felt it immediately: his luck was leaving him.”
Winslow’s luck will take a few more zigs and zags before this day ends, and with it this perfect chapter. There is nothing particularly fancy here–except for some mountains shining “like advertisements for themselves, sharp-toothed and glamorous” and some “[e]mpty storefronts” that line a street “like a mouthful of broken teeth.”
But the generally modest language and staid narration somehow amount to a fantastically eloquent portrait of an interesting and troubled mind confronted with beauty, grasping at it for hope and forgetfulness while basking in the glorious present. Winslow finds the natural beauty of mountains and water, fish and elk, light and warmth, both ordinary and outrageous. “How many different kinds of fool would he feel like before this day was over?” he wonders in self-reproach and exultation.
Despite one pretty big problem with the novel, I count it as one of the best I’ve read so far this year.