A French-language book telling “a comic tale of alcoholism and global warming,” Jack est Scrap marks the first novel by former NWT resident and journalist Denis Lord.
Set in a fictional Northwest Territories community, which Lord considers a “cross between Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River,” the book follows four men travelling through Denendeh, tackling everything from the shaky consequences of permafrost thaw to the rocky road of addiction recovery.
“It’s a story about brotherhood and heartache, but there’s a lot of humour in it,” Lord says.
Lord, originally from Quebec, began working on the story during four years working as a Yellowknife-based journalist for Radio Taïga.
He says the changing northern landscape moved him to write.
“When I was in Yellowknife, there was this team from Yukon College making this story about the changing of the landscape because all the permafrost was thawing,” he says. “The birds were not the same, and the animals were not going there any more.
“The North is changing. It’s a big part of the story. I tried to not be apolitical, but to put that in there.”
Alongside climate change, the novel fleshes out themes of alcoholism and recovery as the four protagonists struggle with sobriety.
This, Lord says, is directly influenced by his own experiences.
“It was part of my intimate life, healing from alcoholism,” he says. “The next step after you’re sober is how you live your life, because the things that drive you to drink are still there.
“So you have to reboot yourself. If you have dark ideas, you have got to find discipline or a way of thinking to get through your problems.”
He laughs after offering this explanation of sobriety.
“I could sound like some psychopath, but that’s the way I lived it,” he says. “The margin is narrow between pop psychology and simplicity.”
In part, writing the book was healing for Lord – “an exorcism,” he calls it – allowing him to work through those experiences while finding humour and levity.
“I made myself laugh,” he says. “I gave myself a lot of liberty when writing, so there’s a lot of wordplay.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s meant to be a study of humanity and how we connect to one another.
Lord has since moved back to his home province of Quebec but remains connected to his northern community. Asked to describe the French literary scene in the territory, Lord says it’s “emerging” and often a mixture of oral storytelling and the written word.
“It’s fragile,” he says. “There’s not a lot of people… but it’s important to have French cultural things, and literature is part of it.”
As part of that mission, Lord says he insisted to his publisher that copies of his book be available in Yellowknife – not just because of the time he spent there, but to give the northern Francophone community another option when looking through the bookstore.
“I put all my heart into it, so I hope people got some emotions reading it,” he chuckles.
Jack est Scrap is available for purchase at the Yellowknife Book Cellar.