At the start of This One Wild Life, Angie Abdou posts a note “For Readers,”
“When I ask myself, what distinguishes a memoir from other forms of narrative, I always come back to intimacy”
Without a doubt, This One Wild Life is Angie’s most intimate memoir yet. Coming on the heels of Home Ice, the focus changes from her son Ollie’s hockey life to her daughter Katie’s seeming shyness when out of the family circle.
At the end of the summer she spent promoting Home Ice (and being vilified for her portrayal of the national sport at a local level), Angie and Katie hike up Fernie Mountain. Like most hikes in the Elk Valley, the trail goes up. You reach the top. And you go down. In this narrow valley , most of the hikes resemble the dreaded Stair-Master in the gym. At the end of that hike, Angie arrived at a solution to Katie’s shyness and a way to build confidence. They will spend the next summer summer hiking a peak-a-week around the Fernie area. And a mother-daughter bonding exercise after her Home Ice book on Ollie. As with all plans, the execution is the rub.
To begin with, the plan is immediately diverted by Ollie and Marty (husband) who think the hikes are a great idea. They want in. The first hike becomes a week-long family backpack along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
What could go wrong?
Angie notes, “something happening is the essential requirement of a successful story,” implying the likes of Into Thin Air.
Nothing goes sideways.
Ollie is stunned by the scope and breadth of the ocean. Katie skips across slippery rocks looking for the next tide pool, all without issue. And the trip is a rousing success.
The early summer becomes a succession of family outings.
Angie seems a bit relieved to have Marty along, “I have no sense of direction.”
On one trip to Silver Springs, Marty decides it’s a great time to practice bear spray and tosses all his expired bear spray in the back of the truck.
Ollie objects from the start. “This is dumb.”
Well above the first lake and away from other hikers, Marty pulls the first can and talks of letting the bear come close, not shooting it all off at once. Katie goes. Angie goes. And Ollie goes. As Ollie fends off the bear, the wind shifts and he doses Angie and Katie.
“I told you this was a stupid idea!!!”
And the summer goes on. Some hikes with Katie. Some as a family. And one last one with a writer friend from Toronto. Of the last I’ll only say, knowing Jowita, that in the last ten years, the longest stretch she spent out of high heels was the five or six days she spent in Fernie that summer. She’s a cog in the Toronto literary scene and all that goes with that. One day of that life-out-of-high-heels was hiking Mt. Hosmer with Angie. And, in this case, the essentials of a great story all come together. Augmented by Angie’s sense of direction.
In This One Wild Life, Angie develops a humor above and beyond her previous writing. Reading about the bear spray and the hike on Mt. Hosmer is hard. You’re laughing out loud and have to stop, putting the book down. It’s a “This can’t be happening. It can’t get worse.” And it does. And it’s hilarious. Shades of Pam Houston throughout the book.
Part of this memoir is a mediation on the effects of tourism. In Port Renfrow, starting their week-long backpack, Angie muses, “Tourism alters a place, and not all locals welcome the change.” Later, after a time in Singapore at the LaSalle College of the Arts as a visiting writer, she visits Cambodia. After taking a boat trip around a floating village, she grabs two cold beers and seeks out the local man who arranged for the woman to paddle her around the village. She felt awkward, like she was looking a zoo of poverty. After the tour, sitting with the man who arranged the paddle Angie asks, “Is tourism good for you?”
“‘No,’. . . but now his face grew grim. He dropped the tour guide façade. ‘Prices of everything have gone up.’” He continues, explaining there is more, but they still cannot afford what the tourists afford. Tourism creates a divide. At the same time, they cannot live without the tourists.
After the conversation, “The man thanked me for the beer and my tourist dollars. He smiled at me. But I rode the bus back to my nine-dollar-a-night hotel heavy with guilt.”
While Angie’s plan to balance things out, a book with Ollie, a book with Katie, was diverted. She found the true balance came as they joined together as a family without an emphasis on one or the other in their clan. Balance in a family cannot be found on a teeter-totter, but, as Angie found, in walking a path together, occasional bear spray and all.
Angie says early on to Marty, pointing out the window of their house, “This is my Fernie. The mountains, the river, the trees.”
We explore her Fernie. The good. The bad. Some without stories. And some with all the essential elements of a great story.
Angie describes Fernie in the intimate manner of someone who has been through the tough times and the good times, and decided to stay, to remain in love.
Angie Abdou’s Book Launch for This One Wild Life is on April 13th, see more here.
About Angie Abdou
Angie Abdou is a Canadian author who has published seven books, including The Bone Cage (a CBC Canada Reads finalist in 2011, defended by NHL star Georges Laraque). Chatelaine magazine named Angie’s most recent novel, In Case I Go, one of the most-riveting mysteries of 2017, and The Vancouver Sun called it a “spectacularly successful” novel. It was a finalist for the Banff Mountain Book Award, in the fiction and poetry category. With her seventh book, Abdou turns her attention to nonfiction. Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom chronicles the year in the life of a busy sport family. A starred review in Booklist calls Home Ice a first-rate memoir, a fine example of narrative nonfiction, and a must-read for parents with youngsters in organized sport. Angie is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.