The Prairie Novels
James Hoffman, George Ryga’s biographer, provides a brilliant guide to the reader of this collection, with a compelling reappraisal of Ryga’s fiction as far ahead of its time. The three short novels included here—Hungry Hills, Ballad of a Stonepicker and Night Desk—draw from the same large canvas of rural, depression-era Alberta. They have similar stark prairie settings and a recognizable array of colourful, cantankerous homesteader and dirt farmer characters, all of whom take us in many pleasurable, disturbing and revealing directions, both historical and mythopoetic. This was a period of obstinate survival farming and boisterous, ethnically diverse community building, redolent with the more questionable aspects of colonial ‘settling’ and ‘breaking’ of the land, in a place that was never unsettled or unclaimed to begin with.
Told in a homey vernacular, each of these three tales evokes a time and place that is as ironically as it is emphatically post-colonial. Ryga offers the reader (and re-reader) characters with a rough-hewn energy for survival and self-determination, and finds in them the beginnings of an authentic prairie culture defined by the anti-colonial struggle that so powerfully marks his work.