Co-Winner of the 2006 Ottawa Book Award for English Fiction, whose jury wrote: "The Sundog Season is a nuanced portrayal of small-town life, seen through the eyes of a young boy growing up in a northern Ontario mining town. This part coming-of-age, part mystery novel is witty and wise, packed full of memorable characters and original situations, all beautifully written."
This first novel tells the story of a boy whose life changes when a mysterious, menacing new police sergeant arrives in town. Setting out to discover the taciturn officer's secrets, the young narrator must sift through gossip, fortune telling, and signs in the sky.
"The writing," W.P. Kinsella said in Books in Canada, "is exceptional, clear, straightforward, allowing us to see and hear the characters as if they were in the room." He also praised the novel's "subtle but wonderful plot twists." The Sundog Season drew wide critical acclaim for its wintry images of Northern Ontario and its vivid characters.
The Sundog Season's particular appeal for young adult readers was highlighted when it was short-listed for the Ontario Library Association's White Pine Award. And for its chapters that evoke the atmosphere of a small-town Canadian arena, Dave Bidini, author of The Best Game You Can Name, cited The Sundog Season in The Globe and Mail as being among the finest hockey books.
"Remarkable." -- The Gazette (Montreal)
"Adept." -- The Globe and Mail
"Extraordinarily skillful." -- The Chronicle-Journal (Thunder Bay)
"A joy to read." -- The Ottawa Citizen
Suggested Book Club Questions for The Sundog Season
- This novel opens with a prologue that introduces the town, West Spirit Lake, and the narrator's family. The prologue tells the story of a drowning death at break-up time on the lake. How does this episode foreshadow the main story, which occurs eight years later?
- The weather and the cycle of freeze and thaw are touched on frequently. What role does this play in the novel?
- Contemporary books about small-town life often emphasize the seamy underside of existence in places where everybody knows everybody else. Geddes also shows us death, gossip and crime. But does the book ultimately make growing up in West Spirit Lake seem good, bad, or something in between? How is the variety of experience conveyed?
- The narrator and Mike are something of a team in the novel. So are Katie and Annie. Do other characters in the novel seem somehow paired? Do they offset or balance each other? Given the novel's title, how does the pattern of twos take on special importance?
- In certain respects, the novel turns into a mystery. But in the end, the crime involved is far from the one that the two boys dreamed up. Why does Geddes let the boys imaginations about what Sgt. Martin is doing run wild, only to have the reality turn out to be more mundane?
- In one of his conversations with the librarian, Mrs. Lund, the narrator gets into an unexpected conversation about the philosopher Rene Descarte's famous dictum, "I think therefore I am." How does this exchange highlight a key preoccupation of the novel?
- In the prologue, the narrator hates another boy. Later in the book, he grows to hate Sgt. Martin. How can we assess his grounds for hating either the bully or the police officer? Do either of them deserve their fate? What does the narrator's capacity for hatred tell us about him?
- Scattered through the novel are references to magic--Betty's fortune telling, Mike's magician--like appearance from the garbage can, and the narrator's sense that he is invisible as he sneaks around the motel. How does this change the mood of a book that is mainly realistic?
- Typically in a coming-of-age novel, the main character learns a lesson or changes in some fundamental way. What lessons, if any, does the narrator of The Sundog Season learn? What changes, if any, do we witness in him?
- There is a rich history of small-town stories in Canadian fiction, from Who Has Seen the Wind to A Complicated Kindness. But some critics argue that since Canada is now a largely urban country, its literature should reflect that reality. Does the hinterland setting of The Sundog Season still speak to contemporary readers? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
- The narrator develops unusual friendships with two eccentric older characters, Betty and Julius. What is the importance of these relationships to the 13-year-old narrator?
- How does the author establish Mike's character? What is his bond with the narrator based on?
- Coming-of-age tales often show young people in conflict with their parents, or alienated from them. That doesn't seem to be the case in The Sundog Season. But is narrator's relationship with his mother and father entirely healthy? How does his rapport with them influence his actions and decisions in the novel, if at all?
- In the second last chapter, the narrator and his sister are drawn together, at least temporarily, by the death of Sgt. Martin. What is it that brings them close at this crisis point?
- Cigarettes figure prominently at several point in the book. What do they represent?
- The story is told from two perspectives. There is the vantage point of the unnamed 13-year-old, but also, perhaps more subtly, the sense that the narrator is looking back on these events as an adult. A which points did you sense the perspective of the grown man layered over the memories themselves? Does his memory seen entirely reliable?
- Do the two boys, the narrator and Mike, seem likely to remain friends later in life? What do you imagine about the narrator's relationship with his sister, Katie, as they grow older?
- By the standards of contemporary fiction and movies, the two deaths in this book are not particularly grisly ones. Yet they are the accidental death of a child and the suicide of a troubled, charismatic, man. Do they seem tragic? Is it possible for these sorts of unsensationalized deaths to carry much emotional impact today?
- What role do the images of reflections play in the narrative?
- The end of the prologue seems to set the stage for a book propelled by hatred, but the book is hardly hate-filled. What ultimately is the role of hate in the story? What about guilt?
John Geddes is an Ottawa writer and journalist. Born in Shawville, Quebec, he grew up in Cochenour, a small mining town in northern Ontario. He has served as Maclean's magazine's bureau chief on Parliament Hill since 2000, and was a 2003 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.