Book Review – Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

cropped-thunder-road-mockBeing a recent transplant to Winnipeg and a lover of mythology, Thunder Road has been on my radar for quite a while, but I only recently got around to reading it. Everything I had heard about this novel, from the Norse Mythology to the badass protagonist with nothing to lose, felt familiar to me when I first learned about this book. It reminded me of American Gods. This is not a bad thing because I love American Gods and the juxtaposition of mythology with the contemporary world. So instead of thinking, “Oh look there’s a Canadian rip-off of American Gods which could probably be called Canadian Gods,” I thought, “Great, more awesomeness for me to read!”

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Even the covers are similar!

The cover art kind of bothered me because it only makes the novel look more similar instead of standing out as a unique work of its own. It would have been nice to see a cover with the blazing oil sands, a giant amidst the flames, or even some Manitoba landmark.

Thunder Road tells the story of Ted, who was “touched by the Nine Worlds” when he was exposed to the fire giant Surtur during an explosion while working the oil sands in Alberta. After the giant wreaks havoc on the patch and changes Ted’s life forever, he moves to Winnipeg for a fresh start. But once he is exposed to the Nine Worlds of legend, Ted is pulled into the world of Norse Mythology. He is tied down by strangers in a hotel room and branded with markings that give him the power of the gods. I won’t say what happens with the tattoos, because learning about them and what they are capable of is one of the coolest parts of the book and I don’t want to ruin it. Let’s just say he ends up on a yggdrasil_and_dragon_by_tattoo_design-d7652i2world-saving road trip across Manitoba with Loki and a fortune-telling love interest along for the ride.

While there are a lot of similarities between Thunder Road and American Gods, they are two very different novels and the themes they share are ones I could read about a million times and still want more, just as we desire some connection to the old world, to the gods of the past and their place in the present. And Thunder Road does succeed in making that journey a very Canadian one, with a wealth of Canadian landmarks and even mentions of Tim Hortons!

One thing that really sets this novel apart from American Gods, aside from the Canadian/Manitoba focus, is that it is solely based on Norse mythology, whereas although American Gods relies heavily on Norse mythology, it is more about a culmination of world mythologies coming together in America. I loved that theme in American Gods, but I also equally love the focus on one mythology in Thunder Road. And if you have to choose one, Norse Mythology is a pretty damn good choice.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes urbran fantasy or has any kind of interest in mythology. I’m curious to see where this trilogy goes, so I’ll definitely be reading the second book, Tombstone Blues, some time this summer.

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Chadwick Ginther is the author of Thunder Road (Ravenstone Books), a fantasy in which the larger-than-life personalities and onsters of Norse mythology lurk hidden in Manitoba. A sequel, Tombstone Blues, is set for Fall 2013. His short stories have found a home in On Spec, Tesseracts and the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press; his reviews and interviews have appeared in Quill and Quire, The Winnipeg Review and Prairie Books NOW.

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Reflections on The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

What comes to mind when you think of Paris in the 1920s? I think of expats, iconic names like Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach. I also think of locations such as charming cafes, the Eiffel Tower, and even more importantly, Shakespeare and Company. A wealth of culture and art. An unsurpassed time of artistic discovery and expression at the romantic heart of Paris.

Having recently read A Moveable Feast, this romanticized Paris was fresh in my literary imagination when I read Caroline Preston’s most recent work, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt.

Preston has a unique connection to Paris in the 1920s, which she revealed in her “reading” last week at George Mason. I say “reading” because The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is very much a visual feast of color and shape, so the “reading” was really more of an explanation about how she came to write a novel in the form of a scrapbook. Anyway, it turns out that Sylvia Beach was her grandmother’s godmother and had sent her pictures of Shakespeare and Company, even a picture of her standing with James Joyce outside of the famous bookstore.

This connection with Paris in the ‘20s, along with her discovery of Fitzgerald’s scrapbooks were what inspired her to take on the project of creating a novel in the form of a fictional character’s scrapbook. Preston collected real scraps of life from the era, theater tickets, Arrow shirt ads, magazine covers, photos, letters, and many other mementos. In her “reading” she also explained that when she began collecting online images or scanning items, she soon realized that the images could never be as convincing as a real scrapbook full of actual clippings from the ‘20s. She began collecting items from antique shops across the country, organizing them into large boxes by chapter, each for a different period in Frankie’s life.

As she began assembling the pages, Caroline considered what type of items a girl would collect from various places that she lived. When Frankie was living with her family in Cornish, New Hampshire, she collected things a country girl would have, like seed packets and clippings from Sears catalogs. As she moved to New York and began working in publishing, she started including covers of literary magazines and newspapers. And when she arrived in Paris, she began including more refined items like theater tickets and clippings from fashion magazines. Once she had assembled the pages, Preston piled them into a suitcase and dragged them to her publisher in New York where they were photographed for the final version of the book.

Through Frankie’s scrapbook, Preston tells the story of a budding writer who seeks bigger and more exciting opportunities and surroundings, ultimately reaching the ideal of Paris. All of this makes me wonder, was Paris in the 1920s really such a perfect place, or is it just something that’s been idealized over the years by books like A Moveable Feast and The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt? It’s easy to get caught up in reverence for golden ages in culture and literature, but what if Hemingway, or Frankie for that matter, had been too preoccupied with history to experience the vibrant city of Paris whirling around him?

Caroline Preston is the author of 4 novels: Jackie By Josie, Gatsby’s Girl, Lucy Crocker 2.0, and most recently, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. For her latest book she collected items from the 20s era to make a beautiful scrapbook which tells the engaging story of a young girl who moves from her hometown of Cornish, New Hampshire to New York, and later to Paris in her quest to become a writer. Originally from Lake Forest Illinois, Caroline now lives in Charlottesville, VA.