Off the Shelf: A novel reporter

Giller prize winner and former CBC reporter Linden MacIntyre is becoming known as one of Canada's top novelists.

Coming off a Giller Prize win for The Bishop’s Man, celebrated reporter Linden MacIntyre has entered the upper ranks of Canadian novelists.

In conjunction with the publication of his latest novel, Why Men Lie, MacIntyre spoke with Quill & Quire magazine about his chosen vocations.

MacIntyre still recalls the moment that spurred him to try his hand at fiction. In 1982, as a reporter with CBC, he was dispatched with a TV crew from the current affairs program The Journal to cover the aftermath of the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon.

As workers sifted through the debris of a demolished building, they uncovered the body of an elderly woman. Later, as MacIntyre looked on, an infant’s hand and part of its arm fell from a front-end loader used to pull apart the rubble.

The grisly incident has remained with MacIntyre, who was struck by the emotional and psychic scars suffered by the children who were standing beside him while he was shooting photos, and who witnessed the atrocity.

“These boys will become old men shaped by what they saw in that place,” he said.  “How much of the violence and pathologies and mental illnesses of our time can be explained by people’s exposure to that stuff?”

Those memories were still fresh when MacIntyre sat down to write his first novel, The Long Stretch. The scene from the refugee camp does not figure anywhere in his fiction, at least not literally.  But thematically, the experience has been central to all his work as a novelist.

Why Men Lie, published in March, is the final volume in a loose trilogy that began with The Long Stretch and continued with The Bishop’s Man, winner of the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize. In between there was a non-fiction book, Who Killed Ty Conn, and a memoir, Causeway: A Passage from Innocence.

Together, the three novels tell the story of a group of loosely connected Cape Bretoners, who, despite having travelled the world and taken very different paths in life, have been profoundly affected by the long-buried act of violence.

Why Men Lie is told from the perspective of Effie MacAskill Gillis, a University of Toronto professor and the sister of Father Duncan MacAskill, who was at the centre of The Bishop’s Man. As this was the first of MacIntyre’s novels written from a woman’s point of view, his wife Carol Off (co-host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens) concedes she was concerned.

“I had serious misgivings, and I was pleasantly surprised that he pulled it off,” she said.

As a journalist used to the spotlight, MacIntyre, who turns 69 in May, will now be judged as a serious Canadian novelist, as opposed to a journalist with a side career in fiction.

After adding a Giller to his array of Geminis, how does MacIntyre view himself as a storyteller?

“I don’t think I’ll ever comfortably define myself as a novelist.  I’m a reporter,” he said. “But I always defined a reporter as a storyteller as opposed to a social animator or activist.”

While he insists that journalism will always have an important societal role, he obviously relished the opportunity that fiction allows to “dive into the middle of a story and take a position.”

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Vernon Morning Star

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