Serenity Unhinged

22 September 2020

Serenity Unhinged (a memoir)
by Jim Duggleby
Published by YNWP
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-783574

As a writer myself, I’m always curious about other writers’ inspiration for their books. In his memoir Serenity Unhinged, Regina writer, editor and journalist Jim Duggleby mines the landscape of his own history – family, childhood, career – and his bright imagination for material, but the essays and articles in this fun read really owe their existence to a Regina writers’ workshop that took place between 2017 and 2019. The workshop, which included “fewer than a dozen people” at Regina’s Lifelong Learning Centre, was facilitated by Bob Juby and Ivan Millard, and was “loosely themed ‘As I Remember’”.

Duggleby has a long history with and passion for the written word. The former Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reporter professes that he “can’t recall a time when [he] didn’t love writing” in various genres, from history to futurism, and his joy and wit translate into 21 entertaining stories in this recently-released softcover with YNWP.

The author earns five stars for his captivating opening lines, ie: “Perhaps the most surprising thing about my mother’s death is that some people were saddened,” and “My father died twice.” (Interestingly, Duggleby’s pop was “the last doctor in Saskatoon to make house calls.”) Duggleby has a way of turning potentially dark recollections – and realities – into gleaming anecdotes, and this book is saturated with black humour. Of his own experience with both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, he writes: “The only blessing I can find is that Alzheimer’s will likely do a full system wipe on my memory before PD leaves me bedridden, incontinent, and unable to communicate with the people I can’t remember.”

Duggleby grew up with five brothers and the bustling household “took six quarts of milk daily, and five loaves of bread.” There were a few “serene moments as a family, though we didn’t trust them,” he writes. “We just don’t do serenity.”

In the story “The Mating of Chickens … or How I Became a Journalist,” the writer begins: “It’s not everyone who can land a summer job as a sex worker for a flock of a hundred or so chickens.” Humour’s also relayed in well-carved images, ie: of a fast-typing veteran reporter, who “attacked the typewriter like it was a mortal enemy” and filled the air “with the middles of the O’s, P’s and D’s, confetti cut by the smoking typewriter.”

But it’s not all frivolity here: there are some more philosophical observations I found myself nodding in agreement with, ie: “It’s odd the way life picks a direction for you. You get settled into a version of yourself and then, for the hell of it, without so much as a pause for permission, a new version of yourself takes over.” Yes, indeed.

Mostly, however, this book is a romp, and I found myself chuckling at the occasionally grim but sometimes-you’ve-just-got-to-laugh situations, ie: this realistic portrayal of a nursing home: “Old people in motorized wheelchairs raced back and forth on missions known only to them.”

Duggleby’s literary self-portrait is colourful. Serenity Unhinged is candid, satirical, and entertaining.


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