‘I Love the Goddamn River’: Masculinity, Emotion and Ethics of Place
This chapter discusses the rural novels of two contemporary Canadian writers: David Adams Richards and the late Matt Cohen. Both novelists focus on rural men marginalized by changing socio-economic forces which disrupt and reconfigure relationships to the land. In his Salem novels, especially The Disinherited (1974) and The Sweet Second Summer of Kitty Malone (1979), Cohen traces the post-war decline of the precarious family farms carved out of the thin soil of the Canadian Shield during the colonial settlement of eastern Ontario. The process culminates with rural gentrification in his final novel, Elizabeth and After (1999), where the landscape has been transformed from fields and bush to strip malls, car lots, and suburban homes. Richards’s novels present a bleak portrait of the Miramichi River region of New Brunswick, where pulp mills and forestry operations decimate the woods and the salmon streams. The two writers address different trends in the postindustrial transformation of rural areas: Cohen describes a region shifting from a production to consumption-based economy; Richards portrays a region declining into an ecological sacrifice zone. But both focus on how the transformation of the rural environment transforms emotional and social relationships of place.