North Toronto novelist taps history
Wayne Johnston has a thing for outsiders. They seem to populate the award-winning novelist’s books, from his debut The Story of Bobby O’Malley to his best-sellers The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York. His latest, A World Elsewhere, is no exception.
“I guess to some extent, I’ve always felt a bit that way myself,” says Johnston, on the phone from his home in North Toronto. “Partly from being a Newfoundlander who no longer lives in Newfoundland and partly just from being a Newfoundlander.”
A World Elsewhere follows the life of one Landish Druken, a salt-of-the-earth son of a sailor who veers from his family’s traditional vocation of seal hunting and ends up being disowned in the process. He meets up with a character named Van, modelled after George W. Vanderbilt — scion of the wealthy U.S. family — while Landis is attending Princeton. Van, although from one of the richest families in the world, has much in common with Landish. Long story short, the friendship ends, Landish goes home, adopts a child, nearly starves, goes to Van for help and thus sets up the big story finish.
Again, in characteristic fashion, Johnston plumbs history to find intriguing characters and events to expand upon in this novel.
Landish Druken is modelled after the son of Captain Abram Kean, an actual person who is said to have been responsible for the worst seal hunt disaster in Newfoundland’s history.
“I find that character who has the potential, and I sort of ramp up the pressure on the character by relocating them somewhere else,” Johnston explains. “Then their separateness and uniqueness become more unique. Both Landish and his boy Deacon are literally strangers in a strange land once they go to America.”
One of the most compelling storylines in the novel is the touching relationship that develops between Landish and his adopted son. A first for Johnston, who rarely writes in the third person and never from the perspective of a child.
“I think, in a way, that tenderness between them, you know, comes to some extent from me remembering raising my little sister, who is 14 years younger than me,” says Johnston.
A World Elsewhere hits bookstores on Aug. 13. For more information including book tour dates, go to www.waynejohnston.ca.