1501 Tales of a rural ethos

One Inch from Disaster: True Tales from the Wilds of British Columbia
by Kelly Randall Ricketts

Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2022
$22.95 / 9781550179262

Reviewed by Dave Flawse

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Flip over a copy of One Inch from Disaster and you’ll see a picture of a shirtless Kelly Randall (Zeus) Ricketts glancing back at the camera, biceps flexed, wielding a nail gun. While not your typical author photo, it does much to set the tone for this rambunctious memoir set in British Columbia.

The collection of 44 stories in this 256-page paperback evolved from “The Club,” a long-standing story-telling custom between the wolfdog-owning Ricketts and his nine children who would listen to his life stories at bedtime.

The blurb on the back jacket explains how Ricketts “has tried his hand at an astonishing array of occupations, from logging to mining to wrangling horses to performing country music.” He’s a self-proclaimed “enthusiastic bear hunter” and was a boxer and boxing coach spanning four decades. These occupations and hobbies, mixed with Ricketts’s personality, provide a lively source for stories.

Kelly Ricketts

The shortest story is just two pages long and the average just over five, and they all stand alone — the order you read them in has no effect on understanding any of the others.

In the introduction, Ricketts says he hopes these stories “will bring you entertainment and enlightenment, and possibly even a sense of confederacy on things you too may have experienced.”

Does he succeed in providing these three aspects: entertainment, enlightenment, and confederacy? I’ll get to that. But first, I want to address Ricketts as a character, because as with most stories, the strength of the main character has the greatest influence on whether you’re going to enjoy it.

Courtesy Facebook

While glimpses of humility and “wry self deprecation” as promised in the book’s description pop up here and there, almost all of Rickett’s stories feature what I perceived as a heavy dose of embellishment that invariably casts him as the hero, star, or champion.

For example, after a serious logging accident in “One Load to Go” a doctor told Ricketts that the trauma he suffered “would have killed almost anyone else who had been through a similar accident” and in “Jump or Die” a coast guard told Ricketts that his “thirty-two hectares of waterfront was the most beautiful place on the whole west coast of British Columbia.”

To be sure, this braggadocio is part of his charm — he does things his own way. Modesty though? Nope. You may want to take it with a grain of salt.

A younger Kelly Ricketts. Courtesy Facebook

Do the stories entertain? While there is a comfort in the familiarity, you’ve likely heard similar tales of adventures and mishaps before (probably over beers). That said, there are moments of deeper storytelling that this reader finds compelling like “The Flying Apple Crate” where a young Ricketts imagined flying away from his childhood problems on his homemade airplane. For the most part, however, the memoir lacks a desire to dig at deeper, universal understanding and is more about glimpsing harrowing moments without much insight or reflection.

This is especially true with the collection’s first story entitled “Cry Wolf,” a hunting story where Ricketts finds himself deep in the forest and surround by a pack of growling and yipping wolves. “Any moment,” writes Ricketts, “I expected to see the timber release the pack of demons with slashing fangs ready to rip and tear the flesh from my still-living carcass. The terror I felt, in an instant, turned to anger mixed with fear. I screamed at the unseen horde, ‘Come and get me! I’ll kill you all!’”

Ricketts. Courtesy Facebook

Any enlightenment you might glean from these pages could take both meanings of the word. The first meaning contains a sense of giving greater knowledge about a subject or situation. In this sense you will sample Ricketts’s varied and interesting occupations and hobbies in locations across the province and may gain some insight into how some folks eek out a living and spend their free time here.

The other meaning of the word contains a sense of providing spiritual knowledge or insight. As a devout Christian, Ricketts provides a small dose of this as well. For example, in the story “Miracle Baby” he writes, “I laid my hands on her little head and pleaded that our Heavenly Father would give our baby back to us, by the power of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Would some find a sense of confederacy, that is, enter into a league of common experience with him in these pages? I have fished some of the same rivers, visited some of the same places, and had comparable close calls to Ricketts (though in different decades), so I can speak for myself, anyways.

Kelly Ricketts and moose near 100 Mile House, in 1990. Courtesy 100 Mile House Free Press

My sense varied. In stories like “Man, That’s Got to Hurt” Ricketts repeatedly put himself in the path of a stubborn wind fallen tree he was pulling off the road with a truck, and I thought “what was he thinking?” To be fair he does admit when he made mistakes: “My stubbornness has been a great help to me in overcoming some difficult challenges, but sometimes it can also be my downfall.” Other times I recognized where I’d made similar blunders or had the same self-doubts. For anyone else who has outdoor hobbies and works blue collar jobs, you may find the same.

The memoir’s macho content means the audience is decidedly male. The short, straightforward stories would appeal to the casual reader or someone with a couple of minutes to spare away from a device. Tourists or others unfamiliar with the West Coast would find it an escape into rural life in BC. Maybe it sits on the coffee table or in the bathroom at an Airbnb. This book could also be nostalgic for those who grew up in BC around the same time as Ricketts, or anyone looking for a light read.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Great. Buy it. If you’re looking for a deeper read rife with metaphors and subtleties, you might want to look elsewhere.

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Dave Flawse

Dave Flawse tells the unexpected history of Vancouver Island through his blog (located on his website). He’s a freelance writer always on the hunt for surprising stories, and he’s an editor devoted to thoughtful analysis of your work. A firm believer in literary currency, Dave volunteers with his local writing groups with the goal of promoting and furthering literary arts in BC. When he’s not writing, editing, or reading, you can find him with his dog deep in the forests of Vancouver Island where he enjoys building mountain bike trails.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Ricketts and his dog Ghost. Courtesy 100 Mile House Free Press

4 comments on “1501 Tales of a rural ethos

  1. Thanks Dave for your assessment and review of my autobiography, I appreciate your thoughts expressed, I think you gave a pretty good take on the book, albeit, maybe did not nail my motivations or personality 100%, but for the most, I think you got it. I think if you met me in person, you might not see me as bragadocious as you think, I speak matter of factly about both my successes and failures, of which I have a fair share of both if you were to talk to the boxers I have stepped into the ring with over these many years, they would tell you arrogance is not part of my attitude, sometimes my overt confidence masks my fear. Again, I thank you for your honest review as you saw it. All the best and much success in your life. Cheers

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