Betty Jane Hegerat’s latest novel, Odd One Out, will be published by Oolichan Books in early May. In anticipation of that publication, here is part of an interview posted by Carin Makuz on her blog, Matilda Magtree, talking with Betty Jane about her most recent book, The Boy.
by Betty Jane Hegerat
(at) eleven with betty jane hegerat: the boy
I was introduced to Betty Jane Hegerat’s work through a mutual friend, Susan Toy, who I met through a Humber writing program some years ago. A small group of us have kept in touch and Susan regularly fills us in on what’s new and brilliant, book-wise, in the western half of the country. Over the years I’ve come to value her judgment. Hegerat’s The Boy was no exception to her exceptional taste.
The story, based on real events—the murder of a family in 1959 rural Alberta—is told in three interconnected parts: i) fiction (Louise’s story; she’s stepmother to Danny, a difficult and troublesome boy), ii) creative non-fiction (this is Daisy’s story, the real-life mother of five, whose stepson, Bobby Cook, ‘the boy’ of the title, was convicted of murdering his family and became the last person to have been hanged in Alberta, though there remains much doubt about his guilt…), and iii) a memoir of the author’s journey through the research and writing of the book, during which time she develops a relationship with the fictional character, Louise, who makes regular appearances throughout, prompting Hegerat to storylines and directions she’s reluctant to pursue. The reader is privy to all these ‘conversations’.
It sounds complicated. It isn’t. At least not for the reader. As a piece of writing, it’s quite a feat; Hegerat’s use of structure alone is inspirational. (I challenge anyone to suggest a better way of telling this story.) The three perspectives (as well as comments by fictional Louise—this is such a mad and wonderful component!) eventually merge and, seen as a whole, we realize that it’s not just about the boy, but about everyone else, about the way we judge, the roles we play, the things we protect and why. The subject is disturbing, yes, not the least for its setting in the most ordinary of lives, but at the end of the day, the story is less about murder and more about compassion, small-mindedness, fear, what it is to be a woman, a mother, a friend, a neighbour. We all have an influence on each other’s lives and no matter our circumstances, we really aren’t that different— which, if you think about it, is both comforting and frightening.
The (At) Eleven series was begun as a way of chatting about books written by people whose paths have crossed mine in some small way or other. And because I feel that any discussion of words and stories goes best with a little something to eat—and because it’s hard to share a meal online—I make a suggestion at the end of the Q&A as to what meal the book has inspired. (In case anyone would like to do a little book club food pairing.)
“Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.” ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book
(For the rest of this interview, please go to Matilda Magtree.)
Betty Jane Hegerat has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations here and here. Carin Makuz, while never having been directly promoted as an author on Reading Recommendations, is a great pal of this site. Carin maintains two blogs: Matilda Magtree and The Litter I See Project, which has featured the work of a number of RR-promoted authors (including Betty Jane Hegerat!) and was promoted on the blog in Nov. 2015.