The Crazy Man
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Written in free verse, The Crazy Man, which spans April to November
1965, is set on a farm near the small Saskatchewan community of Souris.
Emaline Bitterman’s ordinary day suddenly becomes life transforming.
Riding on the back of her father’s tractor as he discs his fields, the
Grade 6 girl attempts to stop her hare-chasing dog, Prince, from running
into the discer’s blades. In saving Prince’s life, Emmie falls from
the tractor, the end disc rolling over one of her legs. Her injuries
leave her with a shortened leg, but Emmie’s greater loss is that her
accident serves as the proverbial final straw for her father, Cal, who,
as the sole son, had reluctantly taken over the family farm. Years of
crop failures, livestock deaths, and poor grain prices have worn Cal
down, and, after shooting Prince, Cal deserts his wife and daughter and
moves into Souris to follow his childhood dream of working on the
railroad. With crops needing to be planted, Clarice, Emaline’s mother,
unsuccessfully tries to hire help. In desperation, Clarice turns to the
local mental hospital, which provides her with one of its patients,
Angus. The locals, scandalized by Clarice’s act, are convinced that
mother and daughter or their neighbours will be physically harmed by
this crazy man let loose in their midst.
A richly written character study containing echoes of To Kill a Mocking
Bird’s Scout Finch and Boo Radley and Of Mice and Men’s Lennie, The
Crazy Man, which explores prejudices in many forms, is a quick read
meriting several rereadings. Highly recommended.