“Murder,” David Adams Richards writes in his new work of non-fiction, “is always the same crime. It is always done in fear and rage. It always tries to hide itself and run away, and when caught defends itself in bloated self-righteousness.” Anyone familiar with Richards’s fiction and/or the details of his almost Dickensian childhood will not be surprised to learn that the New Brunswick author has known several murderers intimately and witnessed an astonishing amount of violence. That he has emerged from these experiences with such a compassionate view of humanity is one of the many surprises in this engaging essay collection.
Richards is obsessive about his themes, here tracing the physical act of murder to its roots in our personal and collective pride, cowardice, and seemingly infinite capacity for self-deception. Expanding outward, he finds the same failings at work in the lesser crimes and moral lapses that lead to so much human suffering. He is especially scathing (and funny) about the hypocrisy of the cultural left, a group who, in their supposed concern for the welfare of humanity, “freeze out anyone who has really suffered.” These points are hammered home a few times too often, which is not unusual in a collection of essays written over the course of four decades.
Richards’s musings on morality, faith, love, and place are woven into several short memoirs that shed light on events heavily fictionalized in the novels. Especially good are the portraits of his paternal grandmother (the model for Janie McLeary in the 2003 novel River of the Brokenhearted), a widow who defied convention by operating her own movie theatre, and his kindly but emotionally distant father, who clearly inspired many of the author’s quietly suffering heroes. The essays also touch on Richards’s passions for fishing, hunting, hockey, film, and the authors who have inspired his work and his life, including a personal remembrance of Maritime poet Alden Nowlan.
A selection of Richards’s poems is included. Both lyrical and sharp in tone, they distill their author’s moral vision, ear for vernacular, and his too-often unnoted mordant humour.