1898 Being and nothingness on a farm
Time and The Place
By Will Goede
Oakville, ON: Rock’s Mills Press, 2023
$25 / 9781772442816
Reviewed by Joe Enns
Life in general can be depressing if you live long enough or think about it too much. In Will Goede’s novel Time and The Place, the main character, Junior, references the Latin tempus edax rerum (time devours everything), which sums up the main idea of the book. Throughout the novel Goede meditates on life and loss through coming-of-age stories and the music of language. Time and The Place is a window into small town life in the 1940s that pulls together reflections of regret, desire, and a hindsight clarity of what could have been. This bildungsroman reads like a fictional memoir as Junior recollects his early days in the U.S., connecting with the ghosts of his Mennonite family who farm the family property known simply as The Place.
Vancouver-based Goede (Life in Beijing) describes family history and anecdotes deep with metaphor to create an impression of characters who are all ghosts of themselves in different ways. Junior observes his family caught in different stages of leaving or staying. As their neighbour Amos says, “the only way he could leave home was to stay. The only way to stay was to go away.” This sentiment underpins a key theme of the book. Junior’s Aunt Vera is half-present. She moved away once and almost found a husband who now haunts her memories. All day, she stares out the window at nothing or everything (“there was nothing out there. But still, something was out there because the next day I found her back at the same window”). The family all cling to The Place and their routines without too much thought because “if you stopped to ask questions, nothing would ever get done,” and “this is a farm, this is what we do.”
The strongest example of this repetition is Junior’s Opa, who suffers from dementia and plows the same field all day, every day while dreaming of California until he doesn’t notice anyone else around him: “he spent less time looking at me. Finally, he circled without looking my way… now I wasn’t even there.” Goede connects these images through description, and we get the idea that through these stories, and the book, the narrator is himself returning to his own window day after day.
The family farm’s name, The Place, seems simple at first. The farm could have carried the family name, Draeger, but Goede uses The Place as an emblem. Everyone has their own version of The Place, the scenery that surrounds our formative years. Junior is given responsibility and feels like he is becoming a real person, but at the same time he experiences the loss of loved ones. The Place means different things to the different characters, but for Junior, The Place is a symbol of heritage and possibility.
Similarly, the name Junior carries significant meaning. Goede creates an irony by naming the protagonist in relation to a father while the father is depicted as an antagonist. When Junior’s father isn’t berating him, he ignores him. Junior does what he can to distance himself from his father and this adds a complexity to both characters. On top of that, Junior is the last male to carry the name Draeger (“Draegers, who could trace their noble stewardship of the soil all the way back through the centuries to the Mennonite cadres of Catholic Holland…”). He is tied to his family history and feels pressure to continue the name. For example, Aunt Vera tells him, “You’re stuck with that name. After you there’s nobody coming along with that name. You can’t avoid it. There’s only you, and there’s only The Place….” The symbolism of Junior’s name connects to family history and destiny throughout the inevitable decay that comes with time.
Goede weaves together many intriguing themes in the novel, but most noticeable is the play between spatial aspects and the spectrum of light and dark. Characters leave or stay, and that motion leads to depictions of how present they are, but also there’s a motif of rising and sinking. Through farming, the characters are bound to the dark soil, and they also eventually end up buried under flat tombstones in the family cemetery. As Vera says, “They’ll have to bury The Place.” But for a brief moment, they’re able to ascend into the light through great effort. Goede effectively evokes this realization through a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum: “then you will see the pendulum shaving very close… and the deep pit yawns ever deeper on all sides of you.”
This idea of the swinging pendulum works well throughout the book, especially considering Junior’s Uncle Buck, a U.S. fighter pilot who flies his plane over the farm in a loop high in the sky (“engines whining and screaming as if in great pain”), only to crash down and take out the roof of the barn (“something was up there and yet it wasn’t. It sucked in all the air along with it and you couldn’t breathe afterward… A scream and then silence, but for just a moment”). Junior describes that time as “a summer of black boxes and black holes.”
If you’re thinking that this book sounds depressing, you’d be right for the most part. Junior says near the end, “People I have loved are flat stones now.” But Goede counters this sentiment with the best remedy: music. Junior becomes obsessed with the alto saxophone and goes “down into the damp dark underworld and practiced every day and all weekend.” This connection between breath and play amid the toil of life is embedded in Junior’s ancestry. His Gramma tells him, “You know the Mennonites, they think music is like talking.” Music fills in missing parts and builds a desire for life. Opa’s sailor songs all “said the same thing. What you want is over on the other side of the water… the other side of the mountains, the other side of the world.” Music connects Junior to his first love, Marlene, who also plays the saxophone: “we tried to sound as if we were both making one note.” Marlene reflects later, “If only you could’ve played me like you played the saxophone…of course, that’s the way you played the whole world…”
Unlike his uncles and aunts, Junior finds a way out from the gravity of The Place with his love of music, and through Time and The Place, Goede strives for the light through memorable storytelling.
Joe Enns is a Canadian writer, painter, and fisheries biologist on Vancouver Island. His writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, FreeFall, The Fiddlehead, GUSTS, Portal Magazine, and is forthcoming in The Malahat Review. His fiction was shortlisted in FreeFall’s 2020 Prose and Poetry Contest. Joe has a BA in Creative Writing and a BSc in Ecological Restoration. [Editor’s note: Joe recently reviewed Evelyn Lau for BCR.]
The British Columbia Review
Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, 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. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster