David Richards Biography
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Newcastle, New Brunswick, 1950. Education: Attended St. Thomas University. Awards: Norma Epstein First Prize for Undergraduate Creative Writing, 1974; silver medal (Atlantic chapter of the Royal Society of the Arts), 1986-87; Governor General's award for fiction, 1988; Canadian Authors' Association award, 1991; Canada-Australia Writer's prize, 1993; Best Scriptwriter, New York International Film Festival, 1996. Agent: c/o McClelland and Stewart, 481 University Avenue, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E9, Canada.
The Coming of Winter. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1974.
Blood Ties. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1976.
Lives of Short Duration. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1981.
Road to the Stilt House. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1985.
Nights below Station Street. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1987.
Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace. Toronto, McClelland &Stewart, 1991.
For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down. Toronto, McClelland &Stewart, 1993.
Hope in the Desperate House. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1996.
The Bay of Love and Sorrows. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Dancers at Night. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1978.
Small Heroics. New Brunswick Chap Books, 1973.
A Lad from Brantford and Other Essays. Fredericton, Canada, Broken Jaw Press, 1995.
Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi. Toronto, Doubleday Canada, 1998.
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Since the publication of his earliest novels, The Coming of Winter and Blood Ties, David Adams Richards has emerged as one of the most distinct and powerfully human voices in contemporary Canadian fiction. Writing in a economical but rhythmic prose that captures effectively both the cadence and the suffocating reticence of his characters, Richards works toward hyper-realistic portrayals of the working-class communities scattered along New Brunswick's Miramichi River. Immediately accessible as independent works of fiction, these are also richly allusive novels that weave carefully rendered details, repetitions of image and language, and recurring characters into patterns that extend across the body of Richards's work. As he shows most eloquently in Lives of Short Duration, an intricately structured multigenerational novel focusing on the struggles and successes of the Packet family, these are stories that speak of a place and culture in which history runs deep, of towns in which the lives that have unfolded in the past continue to haunt those in the present.
In For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down, perhaps the most accomplished of his novels (and one that the author himself adapted for film), Richards returns again to the Miramichi in order to complete the trilogy he began in 1988 with Nights Below Station Street, which won the Governor General's award for fiction, and continued with the story of the Basterache family in Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace. Set in the fall of 1989, For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down recounts the final three months in the life of Jerry Bines, a character Richards first introduced in his 1985 novel, Road to the Stilt House. Now twenty-six years old, recently acquitted of murder, and separated from his deeply religious wife, Bines is back on the river, bringing with him an ominous potential for violence. As his cousin Adele comments uneasily after learning of his sudden reappearance in town: "Something is going on—it's time on this river for something to happen once again."
Gathered loosely around the oral history related to a nine-yearold boy, the tales of Bines's troubled past accumulate gradually in the novel, often being told and retold from a number of perspectives and through a variety of story-telling forms and chronological dislocations. As in most of Richards's novels, hunting-camp gossip, fragmented police reports, interviews, third-person recollections of first meetings, and memorable encounters continue to add layers to the myths that have built up around the life of the central characters: stories of a young Bines taken down to the old ice rink by a hobbled, mentally unbalanced father where he would fight with older boys so that his father might win a quart of wine; stories of hunting prowess, double-crosses and prison breaks, and crimes approved, committed, or planned, are all essential and oft-repeated parts of river lore.
Moving away from the tightly controlled, third-person narration that propelled the previous two books of the trilogy towards their dramatic conclusions, Richards turns to a multi-voiced structure for this novel, a decision that allows him to blend masterfully Bines's story with those of the people around him. Most prominent among these is the story of Adele Walsh. Sixteen and pregnant at the end of the first book of the trilogy, she is now married to Ralphie Pillar, who, despite his wife's warnings, is becoming enthralled with the power that lies behind Bines's infectious smile. Unable to forgive Bines for his involvement in the theft of a tractor-trailer three years earlier, Adele is nonetheless forced to confront the loyalty that she still feels towards him, a closeness grounded in a relationship that stretches across more than two decades.
It is the almost palpable tension between the violent power and vulnerability of men like Bines, John Delano (The Coming of Winter), and Packet Terri (Lives of Short Duration), that remains at the heart of the most effective of Richards's fiction. Writing against cultural stereotypes, he shuns the one dimensional in favor of poignant portraits of enigmatic men standing alone in a world that does not understand them, of men who frequently square themselves to enter into battles in which their daunting physical powers will be rendered all but useless. Like the alcoholism that haunts Joe Walsh in Nights Below Station Street or the river gossip that follows young Ivan Basterache to his grave, the pain of Bines's past cannot be beaten down with fists or tracked and killed in the woods of the river valley. It inevitably resurfaces to entangle and frustrate any attempts to move forward in the present, to find redemption within a culture all too willing to sacrifice them to any number of causes, and to find peace in a community that coincidentally fears and respects them.
Remaining outsiders capable of acts of disturbing and devastating violence, Richards's characters are never excluded from reaching out in spontaneous acts of tenderness and generosity. Nor are these totally grim lives emptied of all moments of humor. When asked how he feels after being caught in a self-detonated explosion that totally destroys his hunting camp, Bines, for example, delivers his answer with almost impeccable comic timing: "None too pleased about it."
Critics and reviewers have been less kind to Richards's later novels, Hope in the Desperate Hour and The Bay of Love and Sorrows. Although less astute criticisms (of Richards's determined emphasis on social realism in a postmodern world or of the limited appeal of his regional voice) can be easily countered, these later novels do suffer in comparison with the more consistent earlier works. In the later books, Richards's once-subtle treatment of the familiar themes of isolation, failed ambitions, false hopes, betrayal, and violence have been replaced, in part, by heavy-handed attacks on various social institutions (notably, the academy and popular media) and what he renders, inevitably, as a self-satisfied and often self-serving liberal middle class. Despite recent and not undeserved reservations, however, Richards's novels remain essential reading in a society becoming increasingly polarized along lines of faith, economic disparity, and political dogma. Invested with a passion and acuity that strip away false fronts of ideological or moral smugness, these are books that ask readers to think again about the dignity and spirit of people far removed from the urban centers, suburban sprawls, and picturesque towns that all too often dominate images of the contemporary world. These are not bleak stories, but stories that allow readers to shake hands with men like Jerry Bines, to look into their eyes and come away feeling a little uncomfortable, both with what we see and the lens through which we see it.