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The Ravineby Paul Quarrington
Synopses & Reviews
One morning in Don Mills, Phil and his brother Jay agree to let their friend Norman Kitchen tag along on an adventure down into a ravine — and what happens there at the hands of two pitiless teenagers changes all their lives forever. Years later the horrifying details are still unclear, smothered in layers of deliberate forgetting. Phil doesnt even remember the names: Ted and Terry? Tom and Tony? Its only when he descends into a crisis of his own that he comes to realize that perhaps, as he drunkenly tells a crisis line counsellor, “I went down into a ravine, and never really came back out.”
The Ravine is Phils book — we read it as he types it, in the basement apartment hes called home since his wife kicked him out for having an affair with a make-up girl. As he writes, and then corrects what hes written, we hear how he went from promising young playwright to successful, self-hating TV producer. We listen in on his disastrous late-night phone calls, and watch his brother (once a brilliant classical pianist) weep to himself as he plays Ravel and Waltzing Matilda in a desolate bar. The Ravine tells us all about the influence of The Twilight Zone on Phils work and his life — how it helped him meet his wife Veronica and then lose her, and how it led to the bizarre death of his friend, TV star Edward Milligan. Sometimes, when Phils drunk, a friend will look at what hes written so far and call him on it — like when Jay tells Phil that hes remembered it all wrong: that he was just as good as Phil at tying knots back when they were in the cubs.
Phils “ravine” is his attempt to make sense of things, to try to understand how everything went so wrong just as it seemed to be going so right. But The Ravine is also a Paul Quarrington novel, meaning that its hilarious and ingenious, quietly working its magic until the reader is at once heartbroken and hopeful. A darkly funny story about loss and redemption, The Ravine is also about how stories are made — how they can pull us out of disasters that seem too much for anyone to bear — and about how, sometimes, what we need to forgive ourselves for is not what we think it is at all.
Every childhood contains at least one “ravine”–one episode where the normal fabric of everyday life rips and the monsters come roaring out. But only Giller-nominated novelist Paul Quarrington could make that moment both profound and profoundly funny.
Phil McQuigge’s marriage is over, he has lost his job as the producer of a wildly successful TV series, and has also lost the star of that series, who died on the set under mysterious circumstances that seem to be all Phil’s fault.
So Phil, who self-medicates for guilt and despair with liberal quantities of alcohol and what remains of his wit, sets out on a redemptive quest. He has narrowed down the source of his mid-life freefall to the lingering consequences of an ugly incident that happened in a suburban ravine when he was a boy, on an afternoon of adventure with his little brother, Jay, and their hapless tagalong, Norman Kitchen. Phil decides that if he can only find and make amends to Norman Kitchen then just maybe the planets will once again align benevolently with his fate.
Paul Quarrington describes his tenth novel as what would happen if he had written Mystic River. He has a point: in his hands, comedy rides on top of a tragic undertow as the novel follows the surprising echoes of boyhood trauma in the lives of all three men. The extra surprise twist at the end? What Phil ends up having to atone for is not the sin he thinks he has committed.
About the Author
Novelist Paul Quarrington is also a musician, most recently in the band Porkbelly Futures, an award-winning screenwriter and an acclaimed non-fiction writer. His last novel, Galveston, was nominated for the Giller; Whale Music won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1989. Quarrington has also won the Stephen Leacock Medal for King Leary.
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