Where in Canada: The Western Alienation Merit Badge
July 4, 2019
Alberta wasn't always as it is today. Nancy Jo Cullen's
The Western Alienation Merit Badge(Wolsak & Wynn) shows us a different side of the province that takes us away from the sleek glass towers of today and back to its 1982 roots on dusty Prairie outskirts as seen through the eyes of the Murray family.
Nancy Jo Cullen’s
The Western Alienation Merit Badge provides Canada with a glimpse of
history that makes Alberta make sense. Instead of showing readers the sleek glass towers that come to mind when one thinks of Calgary today, Cullen plunks us down on the dusty prairie on the outskirts of the city. The first wave of oil money is hitting, and fancy new subdivisions popping up around man-made lakes are rubbing up against working class neighbourhoods. Here, two young girls can find each other on that prairie and create a tentative friendship.
Jumping forward in time Cullen shows us the impact of that wave withdrawing. With stalled construction, lost homes, empty bars and a federal National Energy Program to pin the blame on, 1982 Calgary is not too far off from today. But this is a story grounded in people, and the voices in this book are pitch perfect. Cullen unravels much of the city in the Murray family, with the two sisters standing in for those who left and those who stayed, characters whose wonderful complexity capture so many stories. There are no simple answers in The Western Alienation Merit Badge, but there is honesty and empathy and humour and a deep understanding of both families and of Calgary itself that explains so much.
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Nancy Jo Cullen is the fourth recipient of the Writers’ Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. Her short story collection, Canary, was the winner of the 2012 Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. She now lives in Kingston, Canada.
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A special thank you to Noelle at Wolsak and Wynn and to Nancy Jo Cullen for sharing The Western Alienation Merit Badge with us, along with a better understanding of Alberta's history.
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