A Canadian hockey player. A mysterious artist. An 83-year-old man chasing the IRA.
These are the three characters brought together by Don Dickinson in Rag & Bone Man.
Set in London, England, circa 1974, Rag & Bone Man follows Hendershot, a Saskatchewan athlete who travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to play hockey. Now, he finds himself beaten up by too much rough hockey and way too much rough living, and trying to recover from it all.
A fitting name for a hockey player, Saskatchewan-born Dickinson drew “Hendershot” from his previous work and from real life. “I knew a man with that name, liked it, and for this book allowed Hendershot to grow up – and to have his name stencilled on the back of his jersey.”
Hendershot rooms with Mister Green, an 83-year-old man who is obsessed with the IRA and spends his autumn years chasing them. Who wouldn’t be engrossed by the IRA if they were living in London during that era? Dickinson drew from his own views on the notorious group.
“What fascinates me about the IRA is the paradox it poses,” he says. “The Irish are renowned for poetry and humour, while at the same time they are tenaciously combative.”
Why bring the IRA into this story? Dickinson explains, “They seemed to parallel Hendershot. He’s a ‘good guy’; however, he does enjoy playing one of the most violent team sports in the world. The IRA gave me an opportunity to consider the fine line between hero and thug.”
And then there’s Margaret Lowenstein, an artist who has been commissioned to create a portrait of Beowulf and has chosen Hendershot as her model. But choosing a hockey player as a model seems odd.
“I think she understands the contradiction heroes (or terrorists, athletes, or artists, for that matter) must face: that at times achievement doesn’t live up to expectation, and they are left to contemplate their own humanity. In Hendershot, she senses this possibility.”
As Hendershot finds himself drawn deeper into Mister Green’s IRA-hunting mission, their breadcrumb path leads them on a trajectory toward Margaret.
Rag & Bone Man takes what appear to be incongruous elements and builds a highly engaging story out of them. Given some of the hard realities of the world Dickinson has built, one might think it would be difficult to infuse humour into it organically.
“Hell no! Dark humour works against the slings and arrows of the world,” Dickinson says.
And what about casual readers who aren’t familiar with the core subject matter – London, hockey, and the IRA? Can they still find something to connect to in this book? Dickinson knows they can.
“The world is still a threatening place that invites us to deal with it. Terrorism is bullying. Most of us want to be safe, to protect children from bullies, to love and be loved,” he says.
“In addition to that, most of us would like a laugh once in a while.”