There is a scene in The Place (2019, Flanker Press) where a character is listening to Skipper Guy as he tells about a man’s past. As she listens patiently, she tells the reader in an aside that “the skipper was a born storyteller.” The same could be said of Mr. Collins. In fact, I have often referred to him as one of Canada’s master storytellers, for there’s nothing like a really good story told by someone who can spin them out. Some people can talk a good story, others, more reticent perhaps can write a good story, but Mr. Collins can perform both with aplomb.The Place is actually a prequel to his 2018 book The Crackie, which was on my 2019 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Fiction category. The Crackie was exceptional, I thought for it hit on a few high points of Newfoundland’s pre-confederation history: the SS Newfoundland tragedy of 1914 (a sealing disaster of which Mr. Collins wrote about in Left to Die) and the failed Gallipoli campaign of WWI. Jake (AKA the Crackie) survived both events and the balance of that novel was about Jake’s difficult early life, being born to parents who would not (and could not) love him. His father is verbally and physically abusive to him but needs him to help with the fishing. Jake has a girl who loves him (Eliza) and waits for him to come back from the war. The malevolent presence of the man they call “The Culler” plays a somewhat minor role in The Crackie, but a major one in The Place, as Mr. Collins tells us how he became so hateful against women and attained his bad reputation among the fishermen of the outports.
To add to the excitement in The Place, there is a murder-suicide, events of WWI (including the “The Catholic” a man of wisdom whom we met in The Crackie) and other dramatic goings-on. At one point, when a survivor of the SS Newfoundland tragedy is telling the community what really happened out on the ice, we are told by Jake’s mother:
The young sealer had us all in his thrall. So vividly did he describe the scenes out on that plain of death, he had created a portrait and we had not even noticed he had been painting.
Such is the case when reading The Place (or any other of Mr. Collin’s books, fiction or non-fiction). Mr. Collin’s writing style and story-telling abilities are spell-binding and I read this cover to cover in a few hours. All-in-all, The Place is another well-executed Newfoundland novel from one of my favourite living authors. If you’ve already read The Crackie, then this will fill in some details for you, nevertheless, I still recommend reading it, for maybe, just maybe, there might be a sequel?
The Place by Gary Collins
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