At home, I wouldn't think twice on this. I'd even focus on the words of You Oughta Know, remembering a time when I was in Grade 9 and every single phrase was so much like my life. (It wasn't.)
In the Czech Republic, it was a weird, constant embrace of The West that I came to expect of a city so tourism-friendly there are signs every 10 metres letting you know how close you are to McDonalds.
At the same time, I couldn't let go of The West, either. Throughout my short journey, I tucked into books about places completely alien to where I was. I was not reading Kafka, I was not loving Boris Pasternak, I was continuing to avoid Anna Karenina.
On the train from Prague to Krakow, as fog settled and misted and made everything seem a hundred times more mysterious, I read Elizabeth Hay's award-winning Late Nights on Air.
I loved every single sentence and paragraph and page, soaking up images of Canada's Northwest Territories, of a short summer that leads to a long winter that leads to another short, adventure-filled summer.
I have a feeling there was a lot of hype about this book in the last year, and somehow it all completely slipped past my radar. I really did plan to leave the book at a hostel in Prague, but I couldn't. I hadn't finished it -- lost in Hay's straight-forward prose, her foreshadowing, her plot -- and by the time I had, I didn't want to leave the book behind.
It's a novel to cherish, a story of the quirky characters working in a CBC radio office in the north -- the kind of novel that makes you feel like you know every single character intimately. It is a book you want to share -- please read it! now! -- but you also want it back.
Hay's main characters boil down to four personalities. European Dido, who everyone loves as well as hates, a character that radiates smoke and passion. Pent-up naive Gwen who first loves everyone and treats everything with excitement, then grows up. Bedraggled Harry who can never quite put his finger on what he wants. And mournful Eleanor, whose happiness must somehow be found inside herself.
By the end, middle and beginning of the story, you want these people to be happy, which is a wonderful thing in a collection of characters with histories and beliefs and fears and hopes. And, it is the kind of book you feel like you could re-read again and again; perhaps once just focusing on aboriginal relations. Another time with an eye on the politics of the era (1970s). Again, pondering the way men and women interact. A fifth time contemplating the landscape alone.
Anyway, I offer this quote to share, from dialogue in the book. For those living in Edmonton, I think it echoes appropriately, even if our climate isn't quite so hostile as Yellowknife's, our days not so very short.
"Just remember there are worse things than loneliness and you won't make my mistake. But winter here does terrible things to people.... Winter leaves a lasting mark, my dear. You discover you're not so strong, after all." (page 107, Lorna to Gwen)