25th Trillium Award

Trillium Testimonial: Stacey May Fowles

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This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Ontario's illustrious Trillium Book Award/Prix Trillium. To celebrate this silver milestone, Open Book has asked members of the literary community to tell us what they love about their favourite award-winning Trillium title. If you're looking for a recommended read (or re-read), follow these Trillium Testimonials on Open Book: Ontario from now until the winners of the 2012 award competition are announced. Today, Toronto novelist and magazine writer Stacey May Fowles tells us why she's chosen Barbara Gowdy's Helpless (HarperCollins Canada), winner of the Trillium Book Award for titles published in 2007.

Open Book:

What do you love about this book and when did you first read it?

Stacey May Fowles:

In 2006 I was working at one of my first real jobs in publishing — a Canadian literary journal that decided, in anticipation of the release of Barbara Gowdy's forthcoming novel, to run an excerpt in the context of a tribute issue. I, of course, read the excerpt before it went to typesetting. I’d been enamored with Gowdy since I was a teen, if only because she so well articulated a feeling of otherness in her work, forcing readers to sympathize with the darker, sometimes monstrous impulses of human nature. Gowdy has always had a gift for bringing the extreme into an often sterile Canadian literary canon, with her keen focus on outsiders groping for a place in a world that excludes them. While I yawned my way through so many of my high school and undergrad English Literature courses, Gowdy was the writer I’d relish in on my own time, feeling complicit in a secret understanding so necessary in our early years.

Just before the issue went to press Gowdy called the office line to deal with an administrative request, and I remember when I answered the phone I had, after the initial paralyzing reader thrill of hearing a literary crush’s voice, an impulse to thank her. Thank her for so thoughtfully documenting what lies outside the norm, for gathering our sympathies and understandings even in the face of the unthinkable. For having enough faith in her readers to face the ugliness and darkness we so often run from. Instead I passed the phone along, and sat back down at my desk, starstruck.

A few years later Gowdy won the Trillium award for Helpless, a novel concerned with our deepest anxieties around children and threats that lie in plain sight. It was of course a given I would read it, a given that I would believe the award was both deserved and unsurprising. With Helpless she had continued her faith in her readers that we were unflinching, that we would succumb to her gift for subverting our sympathies and that we would, above all, enjoy it.
And I imagine if I intercepted a call from Gowdy today, I'd still be starstruck.

Stacey May Fowles is a Toronto writer and magazine professional. She has published two novels: Be Good (Tightrope Books, 2007) and Fear of Fighting (Invisible Publishing, 2009). She is a frequent contributor to The National Post and Quill and Quire and currently works at The Walrus. You can visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter @missstaceymay.

You could be reading your top Trillium titles on a new Kobo eReader! Click here for details on our Trillium 25th Anniversary Contest.

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