Full disclosure: I have known Angie since 2007 when she was my instructor at the Fernie Writers’ Conference. Because of this, I have been in the unique position of hearing bits and pieces about The Canterbury Trail as Angie wrote it. She held her cards close, but every so often she would drop hints about this pilgrimage tale she was penning.
The Canterbury Trail is loosely based on that old, dusty, high-school tome The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Remember how all the boys in class perked up and giggled during the Wife of Bath’s tale? If they thought the Wife of Bath was a lascivious lass, they should spend some time with The Canterbury Trail’s Alison, the gap-toothed, wine-swilling, sex-crazed reporter from out East.
If you do recall your Chaucer, you will no doubt recognize this and other references to his timeless work. I’m a bit of a lit geek, so I enjoyed the little in-jokes in The Canterbury Trail that I actually got. The ones I missed, well, I’ll never know the difference, will I? It says something about strength of narrative that you don’t need to know the original story in order to follow the travails of this group of travellers to their Camelot. Camelot in this case is a back-country cabin set in the mountains above the fictional town of Coalton.
The book opens with Heinz, the town hermit and former English teacher. He spends his time carving signs that name all the beauteous spots of nature that surround his home on the mountain. He curses the very people who he knows are already making plans to invade his tranquil world.
Then we are off! With boisterous abandon, the pilgrims from the town of Coalton begin their journey up Canterbury Trail to indulge in some back-country playtime. Fresh snow spews from the heavens as the diverse groups make their way via various means of transportation to the coveted cabin. Along the way to paradise, the reader experiences snowmobile trips, a hilarious mushroom trip, skiing UP a mountain and, upon arrival, buckets and buckets of puke – without the buckets.
As these outdoor enthusiasts are forced together within the tight confines of Camelot, allegiances are made and broken. The stakes are raised again and again until people and relationships start to unravel and suddenly, things aren’t quite so funny anymore.
On the last morning, the pilgrims wake to perfect conditions on the mountain. But perfect for what? The tension amps up as we watch skier, snowboarder and snowmobiler race to get the face shots and highmarks they’ve come for.
Angie’s strengths as a writer shine through not only in her dialogue, but also in her descriptions. The characters are spot-on. I will only name a few: Janet, the pregnant wife; Cosmos, the hippy; F-Bomb (best name in the book and my favourite character) the First Nations skier with a heart of gold; Loco the local who knows the land better than anyone; Michael, the real estate developer who sees green in all that white. Angie purposely and purposefully takes her characters right up to the line of being stereotypes – she gives us exactly what we expect to see, always with the express intent of turning those very expectations on their heads as the story progresses.
Angie makes the outdoors and the experience of the outdoors tangible. I have never back-country skied, but after reading this book, I, Queen of the Green Run, found myself pontificating to my bored ski-mates on the type of snow beneath my ancient pair of former rental skis. “Ah yes, this would be cream cheese snow. And over there, on that difficult run beneath the Deer Chair, well, that is known as elephant snot.”
I no longer have to clench my teeth in an uncomprehending smile when someone says something about skin tracks. I now know they have nothing to do with heroin. I’m now able to properly eavesdrop on all those cool kids at the coffee shop in Fernie when they talk about “telemarking” and “transceivers” and “pot cookies.” Not that I’ve ever heard anything about pot cookies. No sir. Not ever.
As a card-carrying GORB — oh, read the book if you don’t know what that means — I may not seem like The Canterbury Trail’s ideal reader, but the trip up the C—t* was nothing short of a rocking, shocking good time. (And if the C-word at the end of this review surprised you, that’s nothing compared to the end of the book. You’ll see.)
*Look, Ma! I wrote this whole review and only mentioned the C-word once. Which is about eighteen times less than it is spoken, mentioned and referenced in The Canterbury Trail. Stay tuned for Angie’s interview when she will discuss this very subject.