A Lot to Make Up For
Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 1990
John Buell died last month. I know because a friend forwarded the obituary his family placed in The Gazette. The newspaper itself did nothing. The fourth estate, which in life never properly recognized the novelist, has been silent on Buell's passing.
Edmund Wilson, the great American critic, praised John Buell's novels. Forget him. Wilson knew nothing about Canadian literature. O Canada, the book he crafted for the centennial, is an embarrassing late career cash-in. And yet, for all his flailing, Bunny landed truth with Buell.
John Buell's novels came onto us in fits and starts. The first, The Pyx (1959) and Four Days (1962), were followed by a decade of silence; then came The Shrewsdale Exit (1972) and Playground (1976). A Lot to Make Up For, his fifth and final novel, broke an even longer silence. Short, yet complex, it centres on three damaged characters: Adele Symons, Stan Hagan, and Martin Lacey. Things come together. A single mother, Adele is cleaning houses in Quebec's Eastern Townships. Stan is searching for her, intent on righting past wrongs. Martin offers Stan room and board in exchange for help with his crops. Addiction plays a role in all three lives. Past addiction. A Lot to Make Up For is a story of recovery, redemption and restoration. Positive, it gives hope, yet there is no happy ending.
The words end, but not the story.
|The Globe & Mail, 4 August 1990|
Access: Concordia University, the institution at which the author taught for thirty-seven years, does not have a copy.
In the autumn of 1991, HarperCollins Canada reissued the novel as a trade paperback. I've never seen a copy. A Lot to Make Up For is the alone amongst Buell's five novels in having not been translated.
"In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in John's name to the charity you support."