21 July 2017

by Wes Funk
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9-781927-756980

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.


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