When Saskatoon’s Wes Funk died in 2015 at age forty-six, he was well-known and admired in the local writing community. He’d self-published novels and a chapbook of poetry and short stories, hosted a weekly series, “Lit Happens,” on Shaw TV, and mentored beginning writers. YNWP’s posthumously released Funk’s final book, Frostbite, which contains the novel of the same name, plus a novella-“Rocket of the Starship”-in one handsome package.
Funk’s set both stories in Saskatoon and there are no shortages of landmarks to help locate the worlds in which his protagonists-both with cool names: “Deck” from the novel; the novella features “Dare”-roam. Deck Hall, a recently fired accountant and recently separated forty-year-old, lives in City Park, and his estranged wife is a nurse at Saskatoon City Hospital. The Bessborough Hotel, Midtown Plaza, Broadway Bridge, the Senator, Amigo’s Cantina and Diefenbaker Hill are locations that help set the stage for the aptly-named “Frostbite.”
As the book opens, Deck has just finished his fourth bartending shift in a week, and he returns, wearily, to the Star Wars memorabilia and the companionship of his bulldog, Muffin, at his high-rise. Both the literal and metaphorical forecasts are grim: “Cold, cold and more cold!” Funk wrote of the prairie cold as one who knew it well. “Outside, the snowfall was turning into an all-out blizzard. In another hour, plows and snow-blowers would start to rumble down on the streets below. The machinery would probably wake him up.”
Deck meets the character Blue in Kinsmen Park, a known night-time pick-up spot, and the pair form an unlikely friendship. Deck tells Blue: “I think this is what they call a midlife crisis, Blue. My wife booted me out, I’m unemployed again, and the other day I nailed some chick half my age. All I need is a red convertible and I’m set.” Deck’s other friend is neighbor Halo, a romance writer who lives across the hall in their shared apartment building … and appears ready for some romance of her own.
Clearly there was some overlapping between fact and fiction here. Funk’s author photo shows him in a Star Wars jersey, so the “Luke Skywalker action figure,” on Deck’s nightstand, “Stormtroopers standing guard on the toilet tank,” and the “life-sized Yoda” may indeed have belonged to the author, and these details help characterize the slightly eccentric protagonist. Both Deck and Dare share a love of well-organized comic shops.
What I valued most in these two slice-of-life stories is the “realness” they portray: from bartending details to the “wooden cut-outs of frolicking children” in Kinsmen park; from Deck’s rural Saskatchewan parents’ never-changing home (with its dusty-rose couch) and distinctive culture-“supper” at 5:30, news at 6:00, a “Kaiser club”-everything bears the distinct ring of truth. Deck and Dare, in their separate stories, face hardships and recover, as most of us do.
I got wrapped up in both of Funk’s bittersweet tales, and wish they hadn’t ended, like their popular author’s time here, so quickly.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM