Guest Post by Rob Brunet, author of Stinking Rich
Growing Up On a Beach Outside Ottawa
I often get asked about the characters I write about. Where do they come from? Do I know people like that? Often I point to the time I’ve spent in the country as if the whackos populating my stories are somehow representative of the people I know there. If you’ve read what I write, you’ll know that’s unlikely. I’m not sure that makes the reference a cop-out. It’s just incomplete.
Not unlike the tropes that drive country music, characters like Perko Ratwick or Terry Miner are painted a tad vibrant on purpose. If I’ve done my work right, they’ll engage my readers’ emotion, yet remain off-kilter enough to amuse.
Part of them is anchored in my experience down dirt roads stretching right back to my formative years on a beach upriver from Ottawa. In a lot of ways, I grew up on that beach. My city-kid lens skewed much of what I saw, but by the time I was a teenager, the barriers between the cottage kids and the locals broke down. There’s nothing like sitting on a log around a bonfire drinking underage beer to make everyone equal.
Until then, I’d naively seen the local kids—those who lived in cottage country year-round—as the lucky ones. I was oblivious to the boredom afflicting life at the end of the school bus run. Once summer ended and the population thinned to next-to-no-one, these guys had little to do. Breaking-and-entering to them was as common as road hockey to my pals in the city: a little wintry fun on a Saturday afternoon.
Between that and minor illicit behaviour sprinkled with occasional violence, more than a few of them experienced youthful run-ins with the local constabulary. In fact, if a guy hadn’t been sent to the detention centre at least once by the time he turned fifteen, his friends thought him “slow”.
I’m not suggesting petty criminality was universal, but its prevalence was higher than what you’d find in the city. And no one considered it a big deal.
I remember sitting round the fire one summer catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen since the previous fall. He asked me whether it was true my father had bought the cottage next to ours—a real fixer-upper my dad purchased as a defensive move when he’d learned the prospective new owner intended to park construction equipment on the property.
I told my friend my friend, yes, that cottage was now ours, and waited for the jab about how us city slickers were always buying things up and lording it over the locals. Instead, my pal hung his head just a little and apologized, telling me they’d never have broken into it that past winter if they’d known it was ours.
Later, my father told me he’d noticed a few things moved around. More than a squirrel might do. And he shrugged at the idea a few of the local boys had busted in. “There was nothing worth stealing in there anyway,” he said. And nothing more needed be done about it.
Another summer, I had a girlfriend up there. Well, for a week or so anyway. Her other boyfriend had gone off on vacation with his wife or something. He left this girl with a case of beer and the keys to a car. She was fifteen. I know my mother was happy that one didn’t last. Come to think of it, so am I.
Country had a way of aging people different from the city. More than once, I was surprised to learn someone was two or three years older than their apparent learning or behaviour would suggest. On the other hand, a lot of them had full-time jobs and something passing for real responsibility before they’d reach the end of high school.
I’m sure I could have found parallel worlds in the city and the reality is, I sometimes did. But something about the directness of life in the country stuck with me. It resonated in positive ways, and now finds its way into my writing. The characters in Stinking Rich may seem a little warped from an urban standpoint, but I trust their connection to their setting rings true.