On this Victoria Day long weekend, Canadians will travel to cottage country to mark the unofficial start of summer, although many of us will only make the journey in our minds. We’ll have to be content to imagine a sunset reflected on a still lake, the smoky smell of a bonfire, and the crack of a screen-door slam. And perhaps we could be aided in our journey with the help of a little fiction, but maybe not. Could it really be that, as Globe and Mail reviewer Darryl Whetter has stated, “the great Canadian cottage novel” has yet to be written?
There are certainly candidates for the title. And though it’s not a novel, Sarah Selecky’s story “Throwing Cotton” (from her collection This Cake is for the Party) exactly fits the description of the cottage book that Whetter is calling for: “a work devoted to a friendship- and romance-sundering long weekend away in which two or more couples fight, gossip, shift allegiances and repeatedly contemplate infidelity – if not a boozy orgy”.
Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing could be loosely termed a cottage novel, using the same “two couples in the wilderness formula” as Selecky’s story. JM Kearns’ Ex-Cottagers in Love also makes the summer cottage a backdrop for romantic entanglement, as well as for nostalgic indulgences. A darker, much less indulgent nostalgia drives Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s When Fenelon Falls, set in the Kawartha Lakes region during the summer of 1969.
Another look back at the cottage in the ‘60s takes place in Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Ladies’ Lending Library, about a summer community of Ukrainian- Canadians, who have a “Mad Men” arrangement with the bored housewives ignoring their children all week, with husbands coming up on the weekends. The story is mostly told from the perspective of the children, for whom the cottage is the whole world compressed into one summer and one beach: the stakes are high.
So too in Kit Pearson’s A Handful of Time, a YA novel about a young girl who is sent to spend the summer with her cousins in Alberta, and discovers a portal back in time to the summers her mother had spent at the same cottage as a young girl. She discovers that at the cottage more than anyplace else, the more things change, they more they stay the same—the tacky decor in particular.
So could it really be possible that the great Canadian cottage novel has yet to be written? And if not, what have we missed here? Tweet us your favourite cottage novels (with the #cottagenovels hashtag) before you get away from it all for the long weekend.