Thomas King’s new novel examines community and human response in the wake of a massive environmental accident
Thomas King has finally made it to the West Coast.
“I swore I was gonna get there at some point,” he says. “I always thought I’d write about it because I lived there as a child and a young man.”
The 71-year-old author got there, so to speak, via his new book, The Back of the Turtle, which is set in Samaritan Bay, a fictional community near the Pacific Ocean, following an environmental catastrophe. Out in September with HarperCollins Canada, this is King’s first novel under his own name since 1999 (in the aughts he published a story collection, a picture book, two non-fiction works, and two detective novels under the pseudonym Hartley GoodWeather).
King’s first three novels – including Green Grass, Running Water, which was nominated for the 1993 Governor General Literary Award – were set on the Prairies where the prolific California-born author lived after he arrived in Canada in 1980. “I hadn’t even seen the Prairies until I moved there,” he says. “There was a fair amount of inspiration from that landscape. It remains a special place for me.”
King began writing the first chapter of The Back of the Turtle a decade ago, while teaching at the University of Guelph (he retired in 2011), but admits he had early doubts about its future. “I didn’t know where it was going,” he says. The manuscript was bound for the trash, but his partner, Helen Hoy, intervened.
He took Hoy’s advice and kept writing, but by the time King had completed a third of the story, his attention was interrupted by another project: The Inconvenient Indian, his narrative history of indigenous people in Canada and the U.S. “Other things come along that you want to do,” he says.