I imagine that second novels are intimidating to a writer, especially when the first one was a success and well received. It is also an iffy thing for readers too; your expectations are often higher with a second novel than with the first. The Canterbury Trail, Angie Abdou’s third book and second novel, comes out on the heels of Canada Reads, where The Bone Cage was a contender. When I first flipped through the book I was really struck with the visual appear of it; each chapter starts with a little anecdote (recipes for pot cookies for example) and a little illustration representing the chapter’s central character. Angie Abdou has weaved a tale that is the perfect blend of comedy, drama, and tragedy; the author realizes that life is usually a mix of the humorous, the dramatic, and the tragic.
The Canterbury Trail is the story of three groups of “pilgrims”. The characters include, among others, ski-bum stoners, a big-city cougar (the sex crazed older woman, not the animal), redneck snowmobilers, lesbians, a pregnant woman, a Swede, a variety of dogs, and an old senile man living in the woods hanging signs that are the glue of the story. This novel is wonderful because of the characters and their interactions as opposed to the “story” per se. There is great forward movement and a plot, including characters’ back stories, but it is the personalities and camaraderie amongst the pilgrims that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go.
The author has done a great job of making a coherent novel with a so many unique and well-developed characters. Sometimes when a writer tries to build a book around a large amount of characters they are flat or stock and/or there is so little forward momentum you stop reading; this is certainly not the case here. Some of the characters are more likable than others but all are memorable. SOR and F-Bomb are by far my favorite in the book while Cosmos and Kevin really annoyed me.
This book is definitely not for children. There are a lot of drugs, drinking, sexual innuendo, and foul language, but that is part of it’s charm. All of these things are simply part of the characters’ lifestyles, stage in life, and their general personality. Drugs, booze, and swearing is a part of life for many whether you like it or not; I think the author is not necessarily glamorizing making pot cookies and mushroom tea (although the recipes are included if you do want to try it), I think she is simply saying “this is what these characters do, this is how they do it.” I found the scenes where the characters were intoxicated or in the process of becoming intoxicated very funny. But like everything fun and joyous, eventually it comes to an end, and, without giving anything away, Angie Abdou certainly does that with style.
Like The Bone Cage, this book has something for everyone (drugs, booze, lesbians, swearing… what else could you want?). The Canterbury Trail examines almost every type of person you would likely run in to and looks at how they interact with each other. There is a lot more than can be looked at in this book than what can fit into a short review, like nature as a character, the allusions to The Canterbury Tales and other Medieval literature, and small town mountain life to name a few.
As I mentioned in my review of her last novel, I have had the pleasure to chat with Angie Abdou via Twitter and Facebook in recent months; I think speaking with authors on social media creates a whole new dimension to their work and I think it helps a reader appreciate the work that goes into a book. I am very impressed with Angie Abdou’s writing (she is actually the only person to have 2 novels reviewed on my site). Each period in Canadian Literature has its bright lights, pre-confederation Canada has Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail; Ondaatje, Atwood, Laurence, and Munro all came to prominence in the 60s; and if I were to make a list of the great 21st century Canadian novelists to date, Angie Abdou would definitely be on the list with writers like Kathleen Winter, Miriam Toews, and Nino Ricci.