A small town in Saskatchewan suffers a tragedy when Joey Fallow, star of the high-school’s hockey team, is killed in a bus crash. Twenty-five years later, when the CBC comes to town to make a movie about the event, it becomes clear that many residents haven’t moved on and that many don’t want to. Mired in the past, and at the same time acutely frustrated by the stagnancy he sees around him, is Adam, Joey’s best friend. Adam has more recently suffered an accident himself, one that has left his memory faulty. In a struggle to master the chronology of his own life, and rise to the new challenges put in his way, he risks alienating just about everyone who frames his past and present, including his wife Ellen and many in their long-time circle of friends.
“The genesis of All This Town Remembers was a sentence overheard in a basement bar in Ottawa,” says Johnston. “It was a man talking to a woman or a woman talking to a man?I don’t remember?but they were leaning over a jukebox at the time, and one of them was sad and the other was trying not to make it worse. They loved each other and I wrote down the snippet I overheard. Even though I didn’t remember the exact line, I kept working on the story it started.
Then one spring day I was in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, with a bunch of relatives. I was standing outside somewhere and wishing I still smoked. It was pretty quiet, because inside was a funeral for my grandmother. My cousin’s boy jumped as far as he could into a puddle and yelled happily. He seemed too young for the gesture to be defiant, and I wished I was that young too, and I could do something that was its own, and not opposing something else. So I wrote this story about a man who wants that too. ”
Johnston’s debut novel gives distinction to the unassuming?the everyday dialogue of married life, the muffled hum of local goings-on and the quiet frustrations of winter. Adam worries at the misconceptions surrounding people’s places in the world, watching as dreams are downplayed in the wake of the reality that replaces them. Torn between wanting more and wanting what he has to be enough, he resents both inclinations as somehow inauthentic. Around him he sees a community of people struggling to articulate what they mean and to shake the old adages, all the while comforted by their persistence.
All This Town Remembers is about recollection, the way some things fade and then jump back fresh; the way others are recalled so often they get ground down. Johnston’s narrative hinges on the gentle wearing away that turns these memories into adages themselves, part of a mythology that both houses and jails its believers. With sharp observations about small-town insecurities, condescension, authenticity and the subtleties of social interactions, Johnston’s novel is an understated, startlingly resonant portrait of a man and a town.
Sean Johnston is the author of The Ditch Was Lit Like This (Thistledown, 2011), All This Town Remembers (Gaspereau, 2006) and A Day Does Not Go By (Nightwood, 2002), which won the 2003 ReLit Award for short fiction. He lives in Kelowna, BC, where he co-edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations and teaches at Okanagan College.