Thank you for giving me Cool Water by Dianne Warren. I started reading it early in the week. I was caught up in the story and read all Friday evening finishing the book just before midnight. This letter will be my review for my blog instead of a conventional book review.
Did the characters resonate as deeply with you as they did with me? While I am a generation removed from living on the farm at Meskanaw I knew people who could have inspired characters for the book.
I can see the quiet bachelor Willard, living with his sister-in-law Marian, so shy he can barely talk to Marian let alone express his feelings for her. We had an equally soft spoken gentle neighbour, John, who surprised and delighted the community at 50 by finding and marrying a fine lady.
I expect you had farm neighbours like Blaine and Vicki and their six kids, a family who worked hard but could not make a go of it on the farm. I have seen the frustration and hurt in men who saw their farms gradually taken away no matter how hard they worked.
Equally in my youth the town banker, Norval in the book, was respected as an important man in the community. His decisions on credit were critical. Still, as in the book, bankers were not so much feared as worried about by farmers.
Did you personally identify with Lee, the young farmer in his mid-20’s, who forwent the opportunity to go to university on scholarship to stay with his family and farm? I saw Lee as the man I could have become had I decided not to go to university and eventually become a lawyer. You also chose a life journey from the farm that took you to university and law.
The characters spoke to me as Saskatchewan voices. I find there is generally an understated tone to rural Saskatchewan people. We have emotions but restrain them in speech.
I appreciated the occasional humour in the book. Lee, making up a solemn formal description of a local cultural past-time in imitation of old books describing foreign cultures says:
The dunes provide a handy place for local teenagers to drink their ritual beer away from the watchful eyes of adults.
The book depicted for me what it feels like to live on a Saskatchewan farm. There is nothing in town life to compare with the sense of isolation and vastness of our province than to step outside a farm house deep in a summer night with the wind blowing strongly. You feel alone in the universe.
The book depicted the loneliness of living on a farm with the nearest neighbour a half mile or more away. At the same time Cool Water set out how close you become to neighbours when they are few in number. The bonds with my farm neighbours when I was growing up were stronger than I have experienced living in town.
Cool Water was very convincing to me in its portrayal of the land on the edge of the Great Sand Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan. I would be interested in your thoughts on the description of the area for you grew up far closer to those Hills. I have visited them but once in my life. I found them impressive as they rolled across the landscape, the steady wind of Saskatchewan constantly shifting the dunes.
I appreciated that Warren was content to have drama created by the characters dealing with genuine personal challenges, some from family relationships, others related to the harsh climate of Saskatchewan. Will it ever rain?
Warren connected the history of the land with the present.
The epic 100 mile horse race to open the book from pioneer days between two cowboys drew me into the book.
The huge buffalo rock that millions of buffalo would have rubbed against before the province was settled is now rubbed by cattle.
In real life, on my home quarter we looked back in history through the arrowheads my Dad found over the years when he was cultivating the summerfallow in the northeast corner where there had been an Indian campsite.
I was moved by how Warren created separate conclusions for all the characters that were so believable. I was fully involved in the lives of people of the fictional Juiliet and amazed how Warren told their stories in the context of a single day.
I have not read a work of fiction about Saskatchewan to compare with Cool Water since I read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell decades ago. Each book has a lyrical quality to the writing. While I love Who Has Seen the Wind it was set in the 1930’s before I was born. Cool Water has characters and a setting of our generation.
It was a deserving winner of the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction in 2010. I will remember Cool Water.
****Cody is a good friend of my sons who grew up on his family's farm near Eatonia, (population 449 which is slightly smaller than Juliet’s 1,011) and now lives in Vancouver.