History permeates Leslie Hall Pinder's Bring Me One of Everything
Bring Me One of Everything
By Leslie Hall Pinder. Grey Swan Press, 336 pp, softcover
It’s almost easier to talk about the things that this book isn’t.
It’s not a murder mystery, although an enigmatic death figures prominently. It’s not an ethnological treatise, although it includes considerable speculation about First Nations spirituality. It’s not a reliable guide to history, repeating as it does the libel that white traders intentionally gave smallpox-infected blankets to West Coast aboriginals during the 19th century. (To its eternal shame, the British army considered doing just that in Pennsylvania, in 1763, but it’s debatable whether this genocidal action actually took place.)
And it’s not entirely fiction, although it’s billed as a novel.
Instead, it’s a collision between three linked plots, concerning Alix Purcell, a poet and publisher coming to terms with the impending death of her distant and controlling mother; Austin Hart, a UBC anthropologist who blew his brains out in his office, with a rifle, in 1964; and the contentious making of an opera based on Hart’s life.
Purcell and Hart are joined by a deep, dark secret that’s so clumsily foretold that you’ll figure it out in the first few chapters, although author Leslie Hall Pinder doesn’t spill the beans until page 327.
And if you know anything about West Coast anthropology, you’ll have also deduced that Hart is a thinly veiled stand-in for Wilson Duff, the UBC professor who blew his brains out in his office, with a shotgun, in 1976. (Other historical figures, such as the late Haida artist Bill Reid, also appear under assumed names.)
Duff’s life—which, by the way, inspired the recent Vancouver Playhouse musical Beyond Eden—is certainly worthy of novelization, and Pinder, a crusading lawyer for Native rights whose two previous novels have been praised, is well placed to tell his story. But the Duff character’s discoveries and despair are shunted aside by the far more prosaic drama going on between Purcell and her mother, while the opera subplot is both forced and tangential. Bring Me One of Everything certainly raises fascinating issues, but as fiction it’s only intermittently successful.