CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014
Tom Dawe’s sprawling poem The Wonderful Dogfish Racket recounts the seldom told story of the summer of dogfish. In the poem which is set in the 1930s in a small Newfoundland outport community, Dawe writes of the trouble fishermen experienced when the abundant dogfish species depleted all other commercial fish populations. When the Newfoundland Commission of Government offered a bounty on dogfish, chaos ensued.
Dawe’s story has great potential to be an compelling tale. The poem has a comfortable rhythm which tempers the reading pace. However, the book encounters several unfortunate hiccups which hinder its effectiveness. Perhaps the most problematic is that the narrative, itself, feels choppy. In the middle of the rising action, Dawe fleetingly introduces the “charmer”, but the page immediately following begins an entirely new plotline, thus leaving the reader in unpleasant suspense.
The Wonderful Dogfish Racket makes use of traditional Newfoundland words, phrases, and dialect. In some instances, it gives the story a certain level of charm. However, the cumbersome and largely incomprehensible slang makes the tale a chore to read. Dawe does include a glossary at the end, but it includes over eighty terms – a frankly ridiculous number of words to require defining for a short children’s picture book.
The book’s illustrations are tricky, too. C. Anne MacLeod has a distinctive style that is bold, colourful, and incorporates a variety of media. Her illustrative style boarders on the grotesque, with disproportionate body parts and humans given animalistic characteristics. The tone of the images do not meld well with the tone of the story, and the overall reading experience is confusing and unsatisfying.
Jillian Sexton has a BA (Hons.) in English Literature from Memorial University, and is currently completing her MA in Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. You can read more from her on her blog: www.thebookbully.ca
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