Monday, March 18, 2013

Wingfield's World by Dan Needles

In Wingfield's World, Walt Wingfield, former Bay street stocker turned farmer, writes a weekly letter to the editor of the Free Press and Economist in the town of Larkspur. In these letters Walt details his small successes, his disastrous failures and introduces the reader to a host of eccentric characters that inhabit the Persephone township. This collection is based on the one-man stage plays written by Dan Needles.

I loved, loved, loved this book! It was such a refreshing change from all of the mysteries, thrillers and historical fiction that I've been reading. It's Canadian, wholesome and invokes many emotions. At times, it's touching, other times it's sad, but mostly it frickin' hilarious. Walt has traded his life at the firm for life down on the farm. At least partially, anyway. He knows very little about farming, but really wants to succeed. He applies his business know-how to chores on the farm and while he doesn't always do it the most efficient way, he gets it done, sort of.

The book is broken down into chapters, presumably matching up with the plays. While each is made up of only the letters to the editor with an occasional note from the editor, the book very much reads like a whole cohesive story.

Walt is such a great character. His deadpan delivery is sensational. That and the fact that Needles makes all of the situations so believable are probably what makes this book (and stage plays) so successful.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of seeing one of the "Wingfield" one-man stage plays at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. I think that made this book even more enjoyable for me. I could imagine the brilliant actor, Ron Beatty, acting out these letters and changing his voice, body language and speech patterns to become the different characters. If you ever get the chance to see one of the plays, I encourage you to do so. I've only seen one play, but it was great.

Favourite quotes:
Dry Cry once sold Don a flat of eggs that were so old they started to hatch on the way home on the seat of the truck. Then [Dry Cry] accused Don of stealing chickens. (page 145)
There's a difference between not needing to know and needing not to know. (page 299)

Many of Walt's letters are funny, but a few of them had me rolling on the floor hoping not to pee my pants. Ok, that's probably too much information, but they were hilarious! These include:
- October 27 (page 323-326), regarding the skunk raiding the hen house
- August 27 (page 98-104), about the condominium's open house, where Walt and the neighbours try to dissuade would-be buyers
- November 5 (pages 337-344), about the burning down and potential rebuild of the Orange Hall

I also loved the "Note to the Reader" at the end of the book. It was a wonderful way to finish off this collection.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

Dan Needles doesn't appear to have a website, but for more information about Wingfield, please visit the Walt Wingfield Official Homepage. (While the information appears to be up-to-date, the "style" is seriously outdated. Time for a makeover, webmaster.)

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

Wingfield's World by Dan Needles, Vintage Canada (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780307360847(Trade paperback), 435p.

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