Friday, July 06, 2007

Bookslut Chats Up Michael Winter

The Big Why: A Conversation with Michael Winter
February 2006

My initial interest in Michael Winter’s The Big Why was primarily because its subject, Rockwell Kent, is an American artist that I actually can identify. When I worked at a bookstore in Fairbanks, Alaska, Kent’s small and elegant book, N by E was always popular with the tourists. Aside from his trip to the Last Frontier that the book was based on however, I really didn’t know that much about Kent’s work or his personal life. That fact that Winter chose to write about Kent through the guise of historical fiction made it seem much more approachable to me, and less intimidating. Having Michael Ondaatje’s ringing endorsement on the cover, (“A wild and bravely written novel that shatters the spine of ‘historical fiction’.”), didn’t hurt much either.

On the surface, Winter’s novel is about the period in Kent’s life when at the age of thirty he decided to leave New York City behind and settle with his wife and three children in the remote area of Brigus, Newfoundland. He was hoping to get away from the superficial nature of the city and find the quiet wonder that he believed existed in Newfoundland. Most of the appeal for Brigus was based on Bob Bartlett, the famous arctic explorer who had captained Robert Peary’s ship on his successful journey to the North Pole. Kent had heard Bartlett speak years before and then became friends with him and was so taken with the kind of man that he was, with his total lack of artifice and obvious deep love for his home, that Kent could not forget it. He believed he would find something that his life was lacking by moving to Brigus. Finally, in 1914, he convinced his wife Kathleen to give it a try. Then he packed his art supplies and left for the North, with his family planning to follow, after he had secured a home [...]

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Coming soon from Rattling Books: an unabridged audio edition of The Big Why, Michael Winter's dazzling reinvention of the historical novela passionate and witty faux memoir of Rockwell Kent, the famous illustrator of Moby Dick. Narrated by Robert Joy.