Ali Bryan on Finding Community, Authenticity, and Acceptance in a Small Town

Ali Bryan on Finding Community, Authenticity, and Acceptance in a Small Town

I moved to a small town when I was in grade 11. My parents, in their mid-forties, decided to accelerate their retirement plans and bought a sprawling Victorian inn on the edge of a marsh in a town that was equal parts blue-collar and post-secondary. It was monster trucks and poetry, dirt bikes and art. My parents had a romanticized idea of innkeeping. My dad, a Bob Newhart wannabe, thought the experience would be, in his own words: majestic. And why not? Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, had stayed there, as did a host of other famous Canadian and global intellectuals, icons and artists, from Pierre Trudeau and Sylvia Tyson to Mr. Dress-up (a former understudy of Mr. Rogers), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Gordon Pinsent, Stephen Lewis, Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean, and P.J. O’Rourke (P.J. even helped me finish a political science assignment). My mom, on the other hand, when thinking of running an inn, imagined Giverny, Michelin stars and high tea. What they got was the breakfast shift, staff members without teeth, and after six years: a divorce. I got a lesson in authenticity. It’s taken me a long time to see it that way. I’ve spent most of my life resenting that move. Its impact has come up more times in my adult life than I expected. As my husband and I have toyed with moving home to Halifax from our current city of Calgary several times over the last decade, I’ve been quick to do the math. No matter the timing, one of the kids always seemed to be going into grade eleven. We never moved. My novel, The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships , which takes place in a fictitious but very real Canadian mountain town, explores the importance of community. A year after wildfires swept through the town, killing the local hero, Crow Valley holds a high stakes karaoke competition to commemorate his death. Chaos ensues. A prisoner escapes from the local correctional facility, a bear is on the loose and everyone’s got a problem, whether with alcohol, their spouse, their car, their own mediocrity. […]

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