Pile of Bones

For our final entry on Regina, we are featuring

 Regina resident and writer Jes Battis.

Jes Battis is the author of a series of novels featuring protagonist Tess Corday, an occult special investigator who lives and works in Vancouver. His first book, Night Child, was shortlisted for the 2008 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. In addition to his creative work, Battis is an Associate Professor who teaches in the English Literature and Creative Writing programs at the University of Regina. In the academic world, Battis has authored and edited a number of monographs and collections, including most recently Mastering the Game of Thrones: Essays on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice (McFarland, 2015), which he co-edited with U of R professor Susan Johnston.

Originally from British Columbia, Battis has found inspiration in his adopted home on the prairies. Under the pen name Bailey Cunningham, Battis authored the 2013 fantasy novel Pile of Bones: A Novel of the Parallel Parks, which is set in Regina.

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Some of you may not be aware that Regina was once called “Pile of Bones.” The City of Regina’s website explains the background of this name and its connection to traditional aboriginal foodways prior to the agricultural settlement of the prairies and the near-elimination of the bison:
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Regina’s Literary Breadbasket

Welcome to the Queen City!

Welcome to Saskatchewan, the land of living skies!

Surrounded by wheat, flax, and canola fields, Regina prides itself on traditions of literary fare that are inextricably tied to the earth. Saskatchewan has long been called the world’s breadbasket, and stories from the capital evoke a sense of wonder for this daily staple.

Canola field outside Regina.
Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd

In her short prose piece “A Lodestone,” Marion Beck describes a woman baking bread. Her kitchen work and maternal body combine to create a scene of reassuring plenty:

Somewhere there is a woman in a kitchen baking bread. The air is filled with the yeasty smell. Warmth from the oven flushes the woman’s cheeks. Her face is plump, the only lines she has upturn as though she always smiles. . . . Beneath her apron her body billows; she is comfortable as a cottage loaf, cuddly as a cushion.” (202)

Born and educated in England before moving to Regina in the 1960s, Beck likely evokes her own origins through the image of the cottage loaf. As for the title, it refers to a naturally magnetized mineral rock, and the woman baking bread has this constant, magical pull. In the kitchen, the stool beside her is never empty. She is a “lodestone” that draws others near. When one child leaves with doll-sized gifts of dough, another soon appears and “is welcomed, is lifted up with floury hands” (Beck 203).

In other stories, Regina fails to provide a homey scene, yet bread remains the one comfort. In Tableaux’s St. Patrick’s Day post on Irish Soda Bread, Alexia Moyer points to Quebec writer Michel Tremblay’s Crossing the Continent in which a young Rhéauna is offered an unappetizing, colourless meal by her Aunt Régina. The only thing poor Rhéauna enjoys is a single slice of fresh bread. It is the prairies, after all!
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Life is About Losing Everything by Lynn Crosbie

“Every book is about cancer or dieting,” the narrator of Life is About Losing Everything observes while perusing a bookshop (180). Crosbie’s text fits into the latter camp, featuring a protagonist whose aging body has fattened and fails her—despite her many forays into dieting à la Jenny Craig. Part memoir, part fiction, part poetry, part prose, Life is About Losing Everything is written as a series of vignettes that document a painful seven-year period in the life of a middle-aged woman with a fraught relationship with food, alcohol and drugs, and sex—with nourishment of all kinds. What is told is a non-continuous, fluid spectrum of feeling, of physical touch, and a body hungry for it.

Crosbie, Lynn. Life Is about Losing Everything. Toronto: Anansi, 2012. Print.

Written by: Valerie Silva

Valerie Silva is currently in her final year of the Master’s program at McGill University, where she studies contemporary Canadian literature. Her current research focuses on affect, objects, and the body in contemporary Canadian life writing.

Irish Soda Bread

“what her aunt has just set down in front of her is a plate covered with a kind of nearly transparent soup with a few pieces of hardboiled eggs floating in it.”

Michel Tremblay, Crossing the Continent, p.89

Recipe Notes (by Alexia Moyer)

This plate of eggs goldenrod, served to 10-year-old Rhéauna by her Tante Régina in Regina, Saskatchewan is, evidently, somewhat lacklustre.

But the bread is good. Delicious even.

What better way to tip our hats to Regina and to Saskatchewan, proverbial breadbasket that it is, than with a bread recipe?
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