Early in the Season: A British Columbia Journal
November 4, 2013
Review By Jonathan Peyton
In the summer of 1968, aspiring American novelist Edward Hoagland spent seven weeks in the BC bush, interviewing locals, listening to stories, exploring highways and byways, and chronicling his experiences. He was gathering material for a grand novel, eventually published in 1986 as Seven Rivers West. It was his second journey north; the first, two years earlier, provided the fodder for his growing reputation as an essayist. He came to the Stikine and the Omineca mountains searching for something he thought he couldn’t find in urban America. The journal in which he fastidiously recorded his experiences is published here for the first time, forty years after his self-reflexive wilderness journey.
There are, of course, many ways to read a book as visceral and episodic as Early in the Season. Hoagland writes with a keen sensory awareness. In this sense, the book might contribute to a phenomenological study of the experience of the North in Canada; the stark aesthetics, the pungent odours, and the varied silences that Hoagland invokes are all major actors in the history he is recording. This is an experiential way of writing, a kind of anecdotal history that derives its impetus from serendipitous meetings with the old sourdoughs, hardened outfitters, and half-feral bush pilots. Hoagland came to the wilds of British Columbia’s Interior because he believed it was the last bastion of this cast of northern characters. He is enraptured by the differences between the frenetic urban life he left behind and the simple, quotidian life of the North. But the constant presence of New York City in the narrative (through his personal and professional reflections) exposes the interconnectedness of the North and the South within modernity. This contradiction, plainly more evident in light of the forty years wait before publication, shows Early in the Season to be an important historical document as well as a manuscript of literary merit. Hoagland’s self-imposed remoteness from his urban experience and the perceived lack of modernity in the North are constant motifs used to reinforce the marginality of his experience. This fits with the common popular narrative of the Stikine. Scholars wanting to explore the relationality of the experience of modernity or of place will find the book of real value. For Hoagland, place in the North is a contested object, where old-timers fight against the onslaught of progress. Place becomes especially unique when Hoagland brings his New York to live there as well. Indeed, the book says as much about Hoagland (the personal) as it does about the experience of the North (the external). He is a central and utterly compelling protagonist in the narrative. The amateur psychoanalyst out there could have a field day with his self-reflexive commentary on his impending fatherhood, his speech impediment, his sexuality, and his ambiguous feelings about his new marriage. Students of race, class, and gender relations in British Columbia will also find much fodder for their analyses.
Early in the Season is a useful companion to Notes from the Century Before, Hoagland’s other, more comprehensive, travelogue of the Stikine. It should also be placed within the canon of northern exploration literature alongside the works of Warburton Pike, Raymond Patterson, and Fenley Hunter. Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume offers much of this valuable context in his introduction. Hoagland’s work will be useful for scholars working in history, anthropology, geography, and First Peoples studies. However, Early in the Season should be read widely and critically by all those interested in the complex histories of the remote northern expanse of this province.