The Big Why


Author: Michael Winter

Published: 2004

Genre: Fiction

About The Big Why: In 1914, American artist Rockwell Kent moved to Brigus, Newfoundland. A year later, he was deported. This may have been what happened in between.

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Review of The Big Why

Plan: Fix up the Dobie house, take in the hunt, and then call up my family. I will make love to my wife and paint hard and build a garden. This here land is my outpost, and from here I'll make my name. We'll visit New York as a treat, and blend into Newfoundland life. I'd be a people's painter. Yes, I wanted to raise a brood of Newfoundlanders and honour my wife.

I say this, but I am incorrigible.

...from pages 16-17

I didn't much like Kent; he was arrogant, condescending, and selfish. He claimed that he wanted to fit into the community but he made no real effort to do so. He had little respect for women, especially his wife, and when the townsfolk began to question his motives and loyalties, he went out of his way to antagonize them. I would have kicked him out, too.

Newfoundlanders came across as simple, hard-working, realistic people. Newfoundland came across as small, cold, poor, and dangerous. Along with Kent, several other real people made appearances in the story, including Bob Bartlett, Abram Kean, William Coaker, and Joey Smallwood. Also, I have come to the conclusion that Newfoundlanders speak a language all their own. There are plenty of regional words and expressions in the book but I think my favourite was "cramp hand".

It's becoming common for authors of literary fiction to eliminate quotation marks to signify dialogue (or so it seems to me). In this book, it wasn't always clear when someone was speaking or if they were simply thinking. Winter often dispensed with apostrophes, question marks, and other useful punctuation as well. I didn't see where those style choices helped the story or revealed anything so I didn't really get why it was done. I always noticed it, the lack, and it disrupted the story somewhat for me. After I finished the book, I read Winter's explanation for the sometimes missing, sometimes not, apostrophes but it didn't change my mind.

I wouldn't say I liked the book exactly but I did admire it. Winter is a talented writer and this book made me curious enough that I will probably check out more of his work.

Reviewed by Lynn Bornath on 16 December 2007.

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More Reviews

Nicholas Dinka, Quill and Quire, September 2004.
“The novel is a page-turner, not because of its plot, but because of its clarity and richness of its voice.”
‘Talk of the rock’. Juliet Waters, Montreal Mirror, August 2004.
“In the end, praise for Winter's novel will probably far outweigh condemnation.”
‘The Disappointment Artist’. Benjamin Markovits, New York Times, 30 April 2006.
“The process of that recognition is a wonderful subject for a novel. Winter has almost done it justice.”
‘Calamitous Year in the Life of a Philandering Artist’. Grace Glueck, New York Times, 8 February 2006.
“Mr. Winter's fresh language and his spare, crisp descriptions (including those of sexual encounters) make it very readable.”


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Added 16 December 2007.
Updated 23 August 2013.