From Shadow-puppets to the Shortlist
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon
Marina Endicott’s third novel, The Little Shadows, tells the story of the Aurora Belles, a vaudeville act that consists of three sisters in their teens.
The Edmonton resident, whose résumé includes stints as an actor, director and playwright, has been making appearances at festivals and bookstores across the country since the late summer.
This past week, The Little Shadows was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, which in the vernacular of the book, means it’s officially hit the big time.
Marina Endicott will be appearing at McNally Robinson on Tuesday.
1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?
I think everyone has an introverted and an extroverted side—and I love the conversation between those two. My introverted side spends years alone, in the company of gradually constructed shadow-puppets; then one day I let my extroversion out of the box, and put some of the work in front of an audience to see how it plays. I ran a reading series for many years in Cochrane, Alta., and now run another with Lynn Coady here in Edmonton. I’ve come to believe that public reading for a willing, intelligent crowd is the best testing ground a writer can have.
2) What do you want people to know about The Little Shadows?
That it’s not a history, but a story of people and their work that happens to be set in vaudeville — that extroverted/introverted, backstage-shadow/footlight-glowing world.
3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?
I spent a very enjoyable week in Winnipeg last summer, giving a workshop at Canadian Mennonite University, with beautiful weather, great students, and visits with two of my writing friends, Joan Thomas and Ian Ross.
I have heard that Winnipeg is fah-reezing cold except for that one week in summer.
4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?
The wagonload of very good Canadian books that have come out this year: just finishing Madeleine Thien’s beautiful, difficult Dogs at the Perimeter, and for some leavening humour, Sue Sorenson’s engaging and intelligent A Large Harmonium.
I’m in the early stages of a novel called Hughtopia, about an art gallery owner who attempts to achieve heaven on earth by fixing the lives of all his friends.
5) What were the challenges in writing/researching such a specific time and place (i.e. First World War-era vaudeville)?
I wanted to examine what it would have meant to be girls and women on the edge of respectability in those days; not unvirtuous, but living outside the general society, and not considered entirely decent. It’s hard, now, for us to enter into (fall back down into) those old assumptions underlying every girl and woman’s life then, the unquestioned beliefs about the limited natural rights and abilities, and the frailty, of woman.
Writing about performance was a challenge: trying to find a way to bring those delightful artistes, their skill and talents, to life on the page.
And underneath it all, I wanted to catch the physical life of 1912: as Alice Munro says, "Every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together—radiant, everlasting."
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.