A Review of Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road(Raven Stone, Forthcoming 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Had I not known that this was his debut novel, I would have thought that Chadwick Ginther’s Thunder Road was written by an experienced novelist. His characters were well developed, his plot strong and thought provoking. After reading the first two chapters, I flipped back to the front of the book and said “thank goodness” as I read “Book One of the Thunder Road Trilogy”. I can look forward to two more books in this world that Ginther has created.
As an occasional scholar of Norse literature, I am always worried when a modern author tries to tackle Norse material, but Ginther was able to demonstrate a firm and diverse knowledge of Norse cosmologies and the complex issues of Norse literature and bring them into a Canadian context. He demonstrated advanced knowledge of Norse myths and the issues that underlie many Norse tales and was able to create his own story without feeling the need that authors often do to re-write myths in order to fit them into their book’s plot. Instead, Ginther creates his own plot that seamlessly integrates elements of Norse folklore and makes it seem like a Norse context is comfortable and familiar for any Canadian reader. His book also includes a quick guide at the end for any reader who needs a reminder of an element of Norse myth.
This story is essentially one of blendings, mixings, and integrations. His plot combines the superhero narrative with the mythically modern. Chadwick Ginther’s hero Ted begins as a worker at the Alberta oil sands and this ecological travesty releases Surtur, the Norse fire giant and destructive force, into the world. Ted’s exposure to the supernatural makes him a marked man, perpetually tainted by the otherworldly and therefore of interest to the various mythical beings inhabiting our world. This taint is then bodily written upon him as dwarves capture him and tattoo supernatural symbols over his body in gold and metallic blue ink. He is literally inscribed with the supernatural and his body is infused with the otherworldly. He becomes a connection between the human world and the mythic, uncomfortably trapped between them, suspended between the past, present, and future. It is not surprising that, as a link between the different realms of time, he comes into contact with the Norns, the mistresses of fate who can see past, present, and future and have their own agenda for shaping a new world.
Trapped between the old mythic world of the past and the new industrial, hypermodern world, Ted embodies the classical Canadian coming of age story – trying to define oneself in a new life elsewhere while carrying the baggage and responsibilities of the past. His new lover in the novel, the youngest of the Norns, Tilda (herself a symbol of the requirements of the past and the desire to make her own future) sharpens this conflict between past family responsibilities and the need to create oneself anew elsewhere. Chadwick Ginther illustrates in his novel that the coming of age narrative is not one limited to the arbitrary barrier between youth and adulthood we have created, but is rather a continual process – perpetually coming to ourselves in a new identity while struggling with past visions of ourselves, and midlife Ted as well as young Tilda can both equally engage in this process of self discovery and struggling to come to terms with change.
Ginther plays with ambiguities in his novel, raising questions about notions of nostalgia for the past, ideas of progress, the limits of knowledge, and ideas of trust, and this is most embodied in the figure of Loki who is the physical representation of the ambiguous. Loki, the major trickster figure of the Norse cosmology has the ability to shift shapes, to change and alter himself, showing that gender, shape, form, and even humanity is variable, changing, and subject to question. He is like a walking question mark in this novel, always opening things to speculation and causing the reader to re-assess their ideas. Ginther handled the figure of Loki (one that is notoriously difficult for the modern audience with their binary notions of good-evil, male-female, trustworthy-liar to grasp) extremely well and although I enjoyed the superheroic character Ted, my favorite character in this story was Loki, who represented Chadwick Ginther’s playful side and desire to question everything and bring his audience on a speculative ride into new territories of the mind.
In Thunder Road, Chadwick Ginther opens a doorway to the mythical in the modern world, letting his reader almost believe that at the edges of our reality, in the most mundane of places, there lurks the remnants and lingering presence of the Otherworld. Like the character Ted, written on and inscribed forever by dwarvish ink, the reader is forever marked by their encounter with the supernatural.
To find out more about Chadwick Ginther and his current projects, please visit his site at http://chadwickginther.com/ . Check out RavenStone press for more information about Thunder Road at http://www.turnstonepress.com/thunder-road.html