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This Ragged Place: Travels Across the Landscape

by Terry Glavin

The “ragged place” in Terry Glavin’s splendid book is British Columbia. Not glossy downtown Vancouver or the clipped precincts of Victoria, but the sloughs and inlets and broken volcanic valleys located at the edges of post-modern consciousness – and the centre of true and powerful stories the writer tells.

Glavin is a former Vancouver Sun journalist who has published four previous books. For essays included in This Ragged Place he’s already won three major magazine awards. It’s not quite right to call this collection a travel book, though the evocative and beautifully written narrative moves from the rolling Chilcotin country across to Prince Rupert and down the coast to Abbotsford. Nor is it a political book, though the essays penetrate the politics of native land claims and fishing disputes. Neither is it exactly storytelling, as the native carvers and spirit dancers portrayed in these pages edge back from revealing their secrets to outsiders.

But with this collection Glavin works in a new form recently exemplified by writers like Lake Sagaris in her GG-nominated After the First Death: Journeys Through Chile, Time, Mind . I don’t like the usual shorthand term “creative non-fiction,” which captures neither the talented journalism of the form nor the often poetic writing. Maybe we should just say these books are a series of overlapping portraits in words, essays designed not to argue or convince, but to reveal. My favourite in This Ragged Place is a meticulous picture of the last day Judge Cunliffe Barnett spent on the job in Alexis Creek. Others might prefer Glavin’s record of a train trip across the province, when he meditates on the important things: “Half of Rose Lake empties east, the other half empties west, and that’s all there is to it.”

Except that in this lovely book, it’s not.