McClelland & Stewart, 309 pp, $34.99, hardcover.
Don't we get tired of literary memoirs, autobiographies that detail how a desperately poverty-stricken, shamelessly pampered, or complacently middle-class upbringing led so-and-so to spout off on paper? And don't we get tired of garden books, those smug odes to all that is fecund, with their my-pansies-are-bigger-than-yours bragging and loamy undertones of moral uplift?
We do. And yet we did not tire of Patrick Lane's There Is a Season, which combines those two forms with yet another overpopulated idiom: the recovery journal, in which someone stops doing something--drinking, drugging, fucking, eating--and is very proud of it.
Pride, at least, is not one of Lane's sins, or else he wouldn't be quite so upfront about his adventures in petty thievery, his adulterous diddlings of Native girls, the nights he mouthed the shotgun barrel but didn't pull the trigger, and the hidden quarts of vodka he's still uncovering on the Saanich Peninsula retreat he shares with fellow poet Lorna Crozier. He's not even ostentatiously humble, but genuinely so. He was an asshole, hit his women and abandoned his children, faked friendship, and ran from his real feelings, but now he just wants to work the good earth and let it slip through his fingers the way his 65-year-old life is slipping from time. Who can blame him?
Conversely, however, who would want to read about it?
Well, being three books woven together, There Is a Season has lots to recommend it. Lane's autobiography, which is of the murdered-father-and-childhood-sexual-abuse variety, is relentlessly horrific and has the benefit of being set in locales--Nelson, Merritt, Vernon--familiar enough that we can picture the setting. His garden book is modest and is assisted by his poet's eye in its description of spider webs, squirrel bones, and magnolia blossoms. And his recovery journal stays away from the gruesome details of the D.T.'s and cravings of his lengthy alcohol-and-cocaine habit, for which we are thankful.
There are, however, moments when some readers will ask "Haven't we been here before?" At first I was bothered by these, by Lane's repetitious meanderings through his plants, by his gnawing over old issues around drink. But such passages are just choruses in a larger song about love and redemption. And if There Is a Season ends with Lane building a meditation garden in his front yard, it's just as much a meditation in itself.