Using Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century picaresque as a model for a modern story seems like a clever conceit, but it serves only as a starting point for Angie Abdou’s second novel, which strikes out in an original and entertaining direction.
The author draws her cast of believable characters in a few deft strokes. Ski bums Loco, F-Bomb, and SOR (don’t ask) join Alison, a middle-aged journalist from Toronto, and Shanny, a hot hitchhiking snowboarder, on a journey to a ski shack located on a mountain outside the mining town of Coalton (a stand-in for Abdou’s hometown of Fernie, B.C.). A late-season snowfall has made the skiers enthusiastic for one final opportunity to “huck” themselves off 20-foot cliffs, “rippy” style. Other characters headed for the mountain shack include Kevin, his wife Claudette, and his friend Fredrick, all hotshot snowmobilers, and a middle-aged real estate developer, his pregnant wife, and two of her friends.
These snow worshippers are all zoned out on their drugs of choice: booze, magic mushroom tea, hash brownies, or joints. They fight, barf, pass out, and eventually converge on the mountain refuge, which turns out to be filthy, evil-smelling, and crowded.
In The Canterbury Tales, each of the pilgrims tells a story, but Abdou’s pilgrims are much too stoned to do likewise, and only a few of them bear much resemblance to Chaucer’s travellers. Alison, the middle-aged nymphomaniac, is similar to the lusty wife of Bath, and Lanny, the drunken mill worker, is obviously meant to recall Chaucer’s miller. But the parallels between Chaucer’s pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket and Abdou’s characters embarking on their blissed-out skiing expedition are largely unnecessary. Abdou’s story is strong enough to stand on its own.