Title: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
Author: Megan Gail Coles
Date Read: August 17, 2020.
This year’s Canada Reads has had many winners in my mind. This is yet another amazing contestant, and I loved it.
The subject matter is heartwrenching and powerful. The writing is absolutely beautiful.
Set in Newfoundland, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club explores the lives and interwoven stories of Olive, Iris, John, George, and Damian as they prepare for guests to arrive at The Hazel, the over-priced artisnal restaurant in which they are employed. The book is split in to three sections: prep, lunch, and dinner. As guests arrive for Valentine’s dinner we begin to understand the complicated connections between the employees and their guests.
Coles pens a compassionate portrait of poverty; highlights the juxtaposition of privilege; and bravely confronts rape and sexual assault and the complicated and disasterous unravelling of its victims. Her forward to the novel reads simply: “This might hurt a little. Be brave.”
Her writing is nothing short of poetic prose to be slowly inhaled like clean laundry.
While waiting on an incorrigible customer, Iris detaches from reality and [feels] “Like a person drowning on the bottom of a pool, Iris is held down by some unknowable force, looking up through the shimmering blue crest at the surface just beyond her reach. She kicks and stretches and struggles. She tries to retain breath yet it escapes her. She watches the bubbles break.” (224).
A terrible rucus breaks out in the restaurant: “Damian approaches the scene reluctantly and hyper aware of the booze his body is focused on metabolizing. He places his man mask on as that is the only mask acceptabe in this particular circumstance.” (252).
When yet another dramatic incident unfolds and a guest calls Damian a faggot, “[George] had stood horrified over by the linen vestibule holding folded cloth napkins in a stack between both plams. Transfixed by the language. The man’s sharp decriptors came as no surprise. His nature held firm to everything George presupposed about the class of people that caused scenes such as this in dining rooms such as these.
Raw skeet, she had thought when she walked past the table hours earlier. (356)
And, as the dinner hour is cut short by the raging white out outside:
“Iris registers the sound of the wind first.
The power loss has created a vacuum seal temporarily absent of human sound. The first wave of shock cascaded over them but now everyone is held in place willing the music to return. They can suddenly and properly hear the storm surge against the corner picture windows. It is swirling and unpredictable. Great arms of it feel hauled up by a Precambrian grudge as if the weather patterns themselves were trying to break the place even further apart to right an ancient wrong. A great shoulder of air heaves itself against the door and blows it open. The candles near the entry fall victim to the gale and the whole front of house falls into complete darkness as Ben dashes out from behind the bar to push the door closed again. Shuttering them all in here together. Everyone can hear things being picked up outside and thrown down.
Don’t want that. Don’t want that either. Don’t want none of this.” ( 386)
Although Canada Reads has declared their winner, I submit that there are two better choices for this year’s win: Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes, and Megan Gail Coles’ Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.