VIRTUAL CLEARCUT: OR THE WAY THINGS ARE IN MY HOMETOWN by Brian Fawcett (Thomas Allen), 320 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Brian Fawcett has found his moment. It took 30 years of rooting around for the subject that could unleash the storm of emotion that's been boiling inside his being. He's written about cities, gender, the art of citizenship and Alexander Mackenzie, the trader who opened up the passage to what is now Prince George, Fawcett's hometown.The last project triggered the idea for a full study of Prince George. Begun in 1991, it's taken Fawcett's literary gifts to the next level -- into the stratosphere actually.
The key influence on the life and, as he observes, death of the town is a mammoth clear-cut so big it can be seen, as the compromised locals like to boast, from outer space. The author returns four times between 1991 and 2001 to track how the shattered forests have sent Prince George's economy and civic pride into the tank.
But Virtual Clearcut is not an eco-screed. This is Fawcett's hometown we're talking about, and he makes a point of taking his teenage son on one of his journeys, so the book is about friendship, the generation gap and memory, all unfolding in the context of the town's profound humiliations and the sometimes brave but mostly pathetic ways the locals try to cope.
Fawcett's pamphlet-writing days are over. The prose in Virtual Clearcut is jaw-droppingly good -- almost unrecognizable. That's not to say his other books are bad. But gone are the pomo experiments he used to throw down in show-off mode (though he does flirt with parallel texts in three lengthy footnotes). The arrogance, once intellectually appealing in its own right, has given way to passion. Ideologies have been eclipsed by burning questions and precise observation.
And no one can describe the traumatized BC landscape like Fawcett.
One of the best non-fiction books ever to come out of Canada.
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