I’d been reading Gary Collins’ novel The Crackie [Flanker Press] for hours. Missus sat across the end table from me in her Edith Bunker chair, alternately knitting and playing Candy Crush, just as intently as I’d been reading.
If the novel had been a western, I’d have been nearing the showdown. I could see it coming, Jake — The Crackie — was about to face another painful obstacle before he had any chance of finding a happily ever after.
I couldn’t take the anxiety any longer. I hove The Crackie on the floor.
“For frig sake, Gar b’y,” I said. “give ‘en a break.”
“Harry?” said Missus.
“It isn’t fair what buddy in that book has to go through,” I said.
“Harry, my upset honey,” said Missus. “It’s only a story.”
Only a story! That’s something to say, eh b’ys?
Of course, The Crackie is not “only a story”. It’s a Gary Collins story, and, in this case, it’s bound to crank up your emotions and make you want to protect Jake from the relentless blows destiny delivers.
Jake is cursed from birth. “You red-headed bastard,” his father says.
Jake is not loved. When lifted from his cot, he’s “put back not kissed.”
He stutters. He’s small of stature. But he’s as tenacious as a crackie latched on to the leg of your pants or chomped onto the skirt tail of a Sister Fate.
As a gunner’s dog during the 1914 seal hunt, Jake hones his marksman skills when the gunner permits him to shoot seals. As a member of the Newfoundland Regiment at Gallipoli, Jake’s abilities as a crack shot serve him well as a sniper.
B’ys, I don’t like summarizing stories, outlining plots and the like. I’d rather talk about something else.
Like tickles, for instance.
Not tickles like youngsters beg from Elmo, but tickles like arms of water between landmasses. Like stretches of saltwater between islands on Newfoundland’s northeast coast, or elsewhere…
… the Dardanelles, say, the tickle between Europe and Asia, famously storied in history as the Hellespont.
Gary Collins uses tickles metaphorically, as crucibles that mold character and forge strength: “Seems to me we all have our tickles to cross,” says the Catholic, Jake’s best friend.
Picture Gallipoli where the Turks are knocking the British forces, including the Newfoundland Regiment, arse over tit. Picture the Dardanelles and wrap your mind around this remarkable image: “Modern steel ships had settled on the channel’s (the tickle’s) floor, disturbing the wooden bones of ancient vessels which had also failed to cross.”
Gary, old man, this image of millennia of sunken ships — lying like stratified layers of ancient conflicts at the bottom of a narrow sea, a tickle — is sufficiently gem-dandy, in a satisfying, mind’s eye sense, for me to forgive you for burdening Jake with constant tribulations.
Missus would likely say, it’s only a line in a story, but I say it’s one of those ever-expanding pictures you can sit back and ponder. For frig sake, I might have to top-off a mug of herbal tea with a splash of Grey Goose, heave off in my Lay-Z-Boy and do just that — ponder.
I always enjoy the elemental nature of Gary Collins’ books. I always appreciate how he takes a tale — what certain people would say is only a story, I s’pose — and tells it powerfully on a universal stage.
For instance, many of the characters in The Crackie have no given names. Jake’s girl is the Maid. Jake’s wise friend is the Catholic. Jake’s nemesis — kinda — is the Culler.
There is something primal about Jake, something edging towards mythical even, especially when he’s not so much Jake as he’s the Crackie.
Dare I suggest this? Jake is a larger-than-life hero (consider his infinite patience on the battlefield) who — forgive me, Gary — causes me to think of Tarzan in his ideal form: Tarzan and Jane; Jake and Maid.
P’raps I should lay off the Goosed herbal tea.
By means of sealers’ dialogue, Gary Collins — tongue-in-cheek, eh b’y? — shines some light on a biblical mystery.
The Catholic mentions the miracle of the loaves and fishes, of Jesus feeding the multitudes.
One droll sealer says, “‘Twas codfish too.”
“How do you know ‘twas codfish?” asks another sealer.
The first sealer’s answer nails down definitive scriptural detail when he says, “’Twas fish, the Bible says so. Says it plain. Heard it a hundred times. Not salmon. Not herring nor haddock. Fish. Small fish, too. Tomcods! Everyone knows fish is cod.”
So there, ye scribes and Biblical scholars. Tuck that into your King James.
Gary b’y, keep it up.
Thank you all for reading.
— Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at email@example.com