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Terry

by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland admits that “the definitive work” on Terry Fox is Leslie Scrivener’s 1981 biography, Terry Fox: His Story. Coupland’s book, in contrast, is more of a tribute in pictures and words, and a reminder of Fox’s unprecedented and truly heroic attempt to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. It is also part of Coupland’s continuing obsession (after his two Souvenir of Canada books) with the myths and material of “everyday” Canadians.

Published to mark the 25th anniversary of Fox’s Marathon of Hope (with all royalties from the book going to the Terry Fox Foundation), Terry is a kind of spare, high-brow coffee-table book. It seems at first an odd tribute to someone so consummately humble and unpretentious. But the artifacts and images Coupland has brought together quickly overcome the book’s chilly, sans serif-heavy layout. With yellowing newspaper clippings, new photos of Fox’s battered shorts, shoes, and near-iconic prosthetic leg, and selections from the many millions of cards, letters, pictures, and gifts sent to Fox, Terry reveals the concrete realities of an event that may be in danger of receding. To see pages from a notebook calculating the distance travelled by Fox each day is to confront again the simple yet astonishing fact that Fox ran every one of those miles himself.

Nothing can make the bare facts of Fox’s self-sacrifice seem any more noble. Coupland’s biggest task here was simply to stay out of the way. For the most part, he accomplishes this, though a tone of mawkishness and a tendency toward hagiography does creep into some of his captions and micro-essays. This is understandable, given the subject, but still feels superfluous. The best parts of this book are those where the text is at a minimum, leaving the reader alone with the images and the evidence.