Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ is a queer, romantic tragedy set against the backdrop of rural Alberta. The book was chosen by Leela Sharon Aheer, Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women as the June 2020 Alberta Reads Provincial Book Club Pick, and it’s well worth a read this month. I’m here to tell you why.
First of all, hello, Emily here — I’m Assistant Publisher here at Renegade and I occasionally pop my head out from my shell when I feel the time is right. Right now is definitely the time, especially to sing the praises of one of our books that is so close to my heart.
The authors describe Pass Me By as a book about ‘what happens to the stories you never tell’, and that’s a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. Every page drips with nostalgia and wistful regret, but it never veers too close to sharp edges. I love this about the book. Queer tragedy as a genre has had its day in the sun, but the narrative here treats its characters with such kindness that I think it subverts the usual tropes with grace.
The story is deepened by the way it successfully weaves together the book’s themes of queerness and identity with the slow, aching loss of rural Canada. The sense that an old world is dying and decaying permeates the pages. So does the feeling that the world the book’s protagonist Ed once knew is slipping away alongside his memories. Poignant images of rotting farmhouses and abandoned equipment fill the pages, and the looming threat of new development hangs in the air. It’s a story familiar to anyone who grew up on the prairies, that slow decay of abandoned, empty places, and the encroach of shiny new suburbs to fill the space. Through Ed’s eyes, this phenomenon turns dream-like and whimsical, as his memories overwhelm him. For the audience, he becomes a bridge between a past that no longer exists and a present that threatens to wipe out what remains.
What makes this book so special is the way that it ties in this tangible loss of place with the loss of Ed’s memories. There’s a sense that both losses are equally important, and equally tragic—that as we lose a world that we knew, we also lose a world that we didn’t.
This hidden world forms the basis of the tragedy, I think, and is also part of what makes this book such important reading, especially during Pride Month. It’s an easy mistake to assume that queer identity is something that belongs only to the young. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, as a young, queer, rural Canadian. It’s so easy to believe that you’re alone. It’s so easy to believe that your experiences have no precedent, or that you won’t be understood. I think the truth is much more complicated, and this book challenged me to question my assumptions about the older people in my life, and about rural Canada in general. It also challenged me to ask some hard questions. Questions like, what does the erasure and decay of our rural past mean for queer history and queer stories? Honestly, that goes for any stories that belong to marginalized groups in our country, so often overtaken and erased by white, straight, wealthy, urban, male voices. What does it mean, when those stories never had a chance to be told? And what can be done, now, to tell them and to honour them?
Difficult questions for difficult times, I guess. But questions worth pursuing, and I’m so glad for stories that do the work of bringing them to light. Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ is a powerful but understated book, and it does the work. It’s also beautifully illustrated in a risographic style that uses colour to melt between the past and the present. I think it’s a book that everyone will find some meaning in, regardless of background, regardless of taste.
This month, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
You can find more information about the book on our website here, including some suggested book club questions. For more information about the Alberta Book Club, and to watch the video announcement put out by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, you can visit their webpage here.