Bow Grip, Ivan's long-awaited first novel, is a poignant story about love and loneliness, and the long road one must travel between them. Joey is a good-hearted fortysomething mechanic from small-town Drumheller (population 8,000) in Alberta, whose wife has recently left him for another woman. When a stranger named James approaches his shop and agrees to purchase a beat-up blue Volvo in exchange for a beautiful, hand-crafted cello, Joey sees it as an opportunity to finally make some overdue changes in his life (and stave off his mother's threats to put him on Prozac if we doesn't find a hobby)..
But some troubling suspicions about James, and a desire to close the door on his failed marriage, compels Joey to hit the road and travel to Calgary, the big city by the Bow River, with the cello in tow.
His wife and her new partner live there and he has some belongings to drop off for her – all very civilised but we sense a certain sense of restraint and hurt here, of hankering for lost past, lost love – that culminates in a panic attack at their bohemian apartment and necessitates a longer stay whilst he recuperates.
He stations himself at a rundown motel, where he struggles to learn how to play the cello. His interactions with the fellow flotsam and jetsam of the motel tenants form a human core of this novel - strangers with their own complicated pasts - an older gay man, a single mother struggling to make ends meet - become confidants, as does a brash young goth trained in classical cello who takes on his tuition and the sister of the taciturn James, whose own pain is finally revealed.
With a certain understated narrative flow, Bow Grip is about one man's existential rite of passage - trying to keep the ghosts of personal history at bay with a heart that's as big as the endless Canadian prairie sky. If ends are left loose and the resolution seems ambiguous that can be forgiven of this debut novelist who writes with a big heart herself.
From a warm heart to Cold Hands now , as I venture further east by train then bus through the Prairie Provinces, over the border into Saskatchewan province. Cold Hands is a dark psychological thriller by Scottish writer John Niven; a cautionary tale of how the past always catches up with, no matter how far we run, as we carry it inside us.
If a recent Guardian review is to be credited: “there are patches of Cold Hands that are almost impossible to get through, they are so disturbing. It's the kind of book to read at high speed, biting your nails, desperate to reach the end and extricate yourself from the horrifying situations in which the characters have found themselves,” then we are in for a truly freezing excursion into the Canadian wilderness!