With his debut novel, author Will McClelland gleefully embraces a swath of clichés about both CanLit and Canadian identity, and turns them – resoundingly and to tremendous effect – on their heads. The Minted, after all, is a novel about a moose and a beaver; about the Canadian Mint and the development of the Canadian flag. Its main character is a lapsed United Church lay minister, who is struggling with his faith and his life on the prairies when news of rebellion breaks. The novel even takes the form of diaries and letters.
Appearances to the contrary, however, The Minted is nothing like the CanLit with which we are all so familiar.
The novel’s rebellion, for example, is the Animal Rebellion of 2031, which starts in Vancouver and Toronto, “perpetrated by a suddenly ubiquitous enemy: raccoons, chipmunks, porcupines, pigeons, coyotes, wolves, deer, birds of prey – the list goes on – all acting with unimaginable coordination and violence.” Before long, Jasper, Alberta, has suffered the largest civilian massacre in Canadian history, and huge tracts of boreal forest are in flames. The Great Burning, as it is known, lasts for nearly two years. The animals of the north fight back, led by “the Great Black Beast” himself – the Moose – along with his unlikely, semi-human paramour, Signal Girl, who refers to herself as “Canada’s first fully functional autonomous android.” Their target? The Royal Canadian Mint, which has destroyed and enslaved Canada’s wild in service to … well, two demons and a beaver.
The Minted is full of that kind of ramshackle craziness, a gleefully unhinged piking of national identity that is by turns hilarious, wince-inducing, curiously touching, and, yes, thought-provoking. It is not for a moment realistic, but McClelland makes the developing narrative seem credible. As outlandish as the novel is (and believe me, this description has just scratched the surface, and hasn’t even touched on the interspecies sex or the robot elk), the world it springs from – a remote north of toxic tailing ponds, barren clear-cuts, and rivers destroyed by hydro-electric projects – is all too familiar, and in desperate need of an uprising. It might not be a moose that ultimately leads the charge in reality, but McClelland renders his own oddball version something worth following.