One of the things I like best about reading Atlantic Canadian literature is seeing my community reflected on the pages. These are places I know and people I see every day. In Some Hellish by Nicholas Herring, the novel is populated with vivid characters representing the rural, resource-employed people of Prince Edward Island. And while the characters could easily step into stereotypical territory, with many of them being fishermen, Herring manages to sidestep that completely. While the land, the water, and the work are central to the novel, they aren’t presented in a way that demands outsize attention or with any amount of self-consciousness.
Some Hellish focuses on the life of Herring, a middle-aged fisherman in Prince Edward Island, who’s been living a kind of humdrum life. He has a wife, Euna, and two daughters, Marcelina and Marceline. His boat, the M&M, is named after them. He goes out for drinks with his buddies, he goes to work, and he has a distant but loving relationship with his daughters. Until one day, one December, he looks at the basement stairs and can’t take them anymore. He cuts a hole in the floor, his wife leaves him and takes their daughters, and the family dog dies, leaving Herring to bury her in the ground in the dead of winter. Does any of this make sense to Herring? No, but it’s the path his life took.
Over the course of several strange months, Herring learns to be by himself, gets rescued by a pair of Tibetan monks after getting his truck stuck in a field, and most significantly, after a number of false starts, Herring has his ultimate shot at figuring out what he wants from life: his buddy Gerry and he get caught in a storm while on the boat. Gerry is found, but Herring remains missing – for several days until he’s found, magically alive. This is Herring’s catalyst to start changing his life and fixing what he no longer wants in it.
Some Hellish is, at its heart, a character portrait. It has plenty of elements of a jolly tale, but it’s far more introspective than the highlights would have you believe. It’s sharp and funny, but it can also be meandering and vague. Herring is a complicated man, and we dive deep into his life and thoughts, as well as the thoughts and perspective of his best friend Gerry. It requires a certain amount of patience as you wander through the different threads of Herring’s life, and it is much less concerned about the plot than it is about Herring’s changing understanding of his world. It was challenging in places to determine what the importance was of a particular scene or thought, but once I settled into the language of the novel, I found myself growing very fond of Herring and hoping he would be able to settle some of the unease he was feeling. A tender and funny character portrait.
About the Author
Nicholas Herring’s writings have appeared in the Puritan and the Fiddlehead. He lives in Murray Harbour, PEI, where he works as a carpenter. Some Hellish is Herring’s debut novel.
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 13 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773102559
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773102559