When Hurricane Hazel tore through Toronto on October 15, 1954, it left its mark on both the city and its inhabitants. In the aftermath, a young cop named Ray Townes emerges as a hero numerous accounts detail the way he battled the raging Humber River to save those trapped in their homes and his story is featured prominently in the newspapers, thrusting him into the spotlight as a local celebrity.
Meanwhile, his wife Mary is wrestling with doubts about her husband's heroism. While performing her own miracles the night of the storm as a nurse at a mud-filled, overcrowded emergency room, Mary met a woman disoriented and near death with a disturbingly peculiar recollection of events. While Mary tries to shake her suspicions about Ray as they rebuild their life in the shell-shocked city, she can’t help but wonder about her husband and that fateful night. When a reporter comes knocking 50 years later to revisit that horrendous night, the truth begins to surface and threatens to destroy them.
Cleverly constructed with meticulous research, this work of historical fiction includes a new section filled with author interviews, new insights in the work, and bonus work from the author.
The Indigo Fiction Blog is pleased to present this guest piece from Mark Sinnett, author of The Carnivore, winner of the 2010 Toronto Book Award.
I don’t suppose I’m very different from most other writers in that, at idle moments, moments when I should really be writing, or plotting, or fixing something in the house, I’ll laze around trying to imagine what sort of film my books would make. And in the case of The Carnivore, the short answer, of course, is that it would make a damn good one, and so I move on quickly to casting decisions and budget considerations. And then, inevitably, I work on the soundtrack.
I long ago decided that I wasn’t going to use much period music, not even for the scenes set in 1954. Mostly that’s because I just don’t know what the music scene was like then. I mean, I can look up the charts of the period and then populate the film with that music, but I’m not sure I want my characters to be that easily swayed by current fad and fashion. My house sure doesn’t pulse with Bieber and Gaga, so why should Ray and Mary have moved to “Mr. Sandman”? And I just don’t know whether Ray’s a Sinatra guy, or a Miles Davis fan. Would he and Mary, or he and Alice, have sung along with Rosemary Clooney? I think that if I tried to make these decisions, with my limited knowledge, I’d have been unfair and untrue to the characters. I would have been guessing, and also would have saddled them with too much mid-century baggage.
And so I decided to use music that I love, timeless music that means the world to me, and music that, if I were in Ray’s shoes, or Mary’s, I’d want in the background, salting down from the leaden clouds.
I hear Gillian Welch singing “Time (The Revelator)” over the titles. “I’m not what I’m supposed to be / But who could know if I’m a traitor?” At least that’s what I hear. And that about sums it up.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy will sing “Cold & Wet,” and he could do it just about anywhere, but I hear it as Ray drags his sorry self home after that long night of the storm, like a rat through the bedraggled streets. A nearly comic effect would be achieved, I think. And I do think there is a dark dark humour at work for long moments in this book. I seem to be the only one to think that, mind you.
And when Alice slips into the water and is carried away, it’s “The Drowning Man” by The Cure. Google those lyrics and you’ll see why. But it’s also about the heavy dark drift of the music, which is so purely evocative of the river the way I imagined it while writing those chapters.
Damien Jurado has a hundred sad and haunted songs that I hear coming out of the wooden cabinets in Alice’s seedy digs above the furniture shop. But if I’m going to pick one for the scene in which she and Ray cast off their clothes it would be “What Were the Chances,” from his And Now That I’m in Your Shadow album.
The great Toronto singer/songwriter Hayden has a great song called “Starting Over,” which is hushed and melancholy, ill and wan somehow, and yet also quite fierce, and full of longing. I see Ray wrapped in his blankets, gnawing on his dinner, or sipping at his booze, lifting a knee softly to this.
Nouvelle Vague cover the old Visage new-wave thriller, “Fade to Grey” in a cool way. And I think of this song whenever I think of Mary, newly pregnant and walking Yonge Street, or on a streetcar along Queen. I don’t know why, really, and I’ve edited this paragraph out three times now, but it’s a persistent association so finally I’m going to leave it alone. Mark Kozelek has written some truly miserable songs, and I’m fond of them all. His “All Mixed Up” (with Red House Painters) is a must in the aftermath of the storm. And works for Ray and for Mary, I think.
Jessica Lea Mayfield is very young but sings as if she’s borne witness to every one of the awful moments in the fifty years Ray and Mary endure in this book. “I’ll Be the One You Want Someday” should play over the credits, in my humble opinion.
And that’s about it for now. By the time they make the film (got to think positively) I’ll have a whole new list. But let me quickly just add this. For all the incidental music, for the general atmospherics, I chose the work of two composers. First, there’s Max Richter, a German-born U.K. artist. He writes mostly for the piano, but he also incorporates found sound and prose fragments, burbling fluid electronica and hissing (and somehow consoling) drifts of static. His latest, Infra, is one of the two perfect albums for this story. The second is by an Icelandic woman, Hildur Guðnadóttir, who mines some of the same ground as Richter, but works with a cello (among many other instruments) and creates much bleaker music, but also very beautiful. And it’s these wild drones of hers that would fill the film if Edward Burtynsky filmed the book and took the river as its main character, rather than Ray and Mary. Without Sinking is the name of the album that tears me apart.
Mark Sinnett is the author of The Landing (Carleton University Press, 1997), poetry, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; Bull (Insomniac Press, 1998), short stories; Some Late Adventure of the Feelings (ECW Press, 2000), poetry; and The Border Guards (Harper Collins, 2004), a novel/thriller, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis award. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.
Special thanks to ECW press for facilitating this guest blog, & to Mark Sinnett himself for composing it.