Stanley Park

I’m mere pages away from finishing Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park. It’s been on my list of To Reads for a while now and luckily I was able to borrow it from a fabulous friend. The novel is a perfect bus book, though I did take to reading it at other times because it is a very engaging story – at least I found it to be.

The novel is set in Vancouver, sometime before the smoking ban and near the turn of the century. I know this because there is a single reference to the millennium in the latter half of the book, and characters are constantly being offered cigarettes and cigars in fancy restaurants. A strange motif. The key characters are a young chef and his father. The chef is a Blood, that is he wants to cook from the local land, harvest ingredients indigenous to the place and relish the ‘local bounty’. A Crip on the other hand would be a chef interested in mixing ethnic palates, sampling from far-ranging harvests, importing delicacies, combining bizarre ingredients on a single plate for ridiculous costs. The chef's father is a professor of sociology who is currently studying the inhabitants of Stanley Park. The itinerants and the permanent residents become friends to him and eventually the father moves into the Park to learn about their lives more intimately.

I did not find the novel extremely well written and there are major gaps in the action that leave the reader anxious for the story to progress; some characters are annoying though that's not necessarily a fault of any novel, it is usually the author’s intention. Still, I found the thrust of the story meaningful and significant. I won’t ruin the story for you if you haven’t read it, so suffice it to say that the major tension in the plot circulates around this notion of Bloods and Crips: you are one or the other and it is a defining characteristic of your thoughts and behaviours.

What the novel really helped me to see, and maybe this explains why I found it so engaging, is that my PhD work has strayed from my original, intended topic. Well, maybe that’s not saying enough. The soul has dropped out of my work over the last two years. It is demoralizing to be consistently turned down for funding, to be told that the project is not important or worth doing or perhaps that you are not the best student to undertake such work. I came to UBC to understand more about the centrality of the physical body to how we know and make sense of the world. A major correlate to this idea is how we interact with our locality, including what we reap of it, how we move through, around, over, and under it, and what all of this corporeal knowledge base means to our values and beliefs.

A brief foray into Taylor’s novel reminded me of my emotional connection to my original research questions. I remain deeply affected by my home region, wide open prairies bordered by jagged mountains; my days in Vancouver are defined by how visible the North shore mountains are from my whereabouts in the city; the quality of light and wind at any moment of the day on any portion of my skin can lift me up out of the doldrums. I want to investigate this. I want to know how other people are affected by their airspace, aural space, oral wafts, visual cues, the gravel under foot, etc. Stanley Park is all about the local, and I’m grateful for the reminder.

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