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The Making of Harry Cossaboom, Jerrod Edson

Jerrod Edson

Jerrod William Joseph Edson BA, BEd, PGC, (author, poet, and teacher) was born 14 February 1974 in Saint John, New Brunswick, and was raised in the Kennebecasis Valley. His middle names, “William Joseph,” were chosen after the names of his grandfathers. His mother was a teacher and his father a welder; both are now retired. Edson currently resides in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife Leigh and his daughter Hadley (named after Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson). He currently works as a middle school teacher for the Peel District School Board.

While attending Kennebecasis Valley High, Edson never enjoyed English and struggled with math. During his final year, he tried to drop math due to his poor grades but was unable to. His teacher made a deal with him: he could attend class every day in exchange for a "No Mark Available" status on his report card. Finding himself with extra time during class, he turned to writing. By the time he graduated from high school in 1992, he had completed 250 pages of a fantasy novel. Edson soon realized he was addicted to writing, and he produced four full manuscripts in the five years following his graduation.

Between 1992 and 1997, Edson travelled to places like Waterton Lakes and Banff, working short-term odd jobs in hotels and restaurants. It was during his stay in Banff that he bought a typewriter and seriously began to write. During his time out West, he also began reading in earnest and discovered the writer who would become his most important influence, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway's simple style appealed to Edson and had a profound influence on his own developing aesthetic. In fact, an important moment for Edson occurred in 1999 when he travelled to Chicago for the 100th birthday celebration of Hemingway. Edson afterward wrote an article for The New Brunswick Reader entitled “The Day I Met Ernest Hemingway.”

Jerrod’s other literary influences include Charles Bukowski, Roald Dahl, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Alistair MacLeod, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Milton, and Jean Rhys. Edson also discovered the work of David Adams Richards when his parents gave him a copy of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down as a birthday present in 1994. He learned a lot from Richards's work, and even wrote to the author, sending a short story. Richards wrote back encouragingly.

In 1998, Edson enrolled at Carleton University in Ottawa. While at Carleton, he studied creative writing under Tom Henighan, who was brutally honest and pushed Edson to focus more on character development. Shortly after, he sent his first collection of stories to New Brunswick's small press DreamCatcher, only to have it rejected because DreamCatcher did not publish short fiction. Determined to be published, he developed one of his stories into a novella, which DreamCatcher published as The Making of Harry Cossaboom (2000).

Edson graduated from Carleton in 2001 with a BA in English literature and history. With his girlfriend Leigh, he decided to move to Poland to teach. Their experience in Poland found its way into the novels The Dirty Milkman (2005) and A Place of Pretty Flowers (2007).

Edson studied journalism in 2004 and received a post-graduate certificate in journalism and new media studies from Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. For a time, he interned at The Score and the NHL Network, and briefly worked with The Outdoor Life Network and TSN Sports Centre, but realized that sports journalism was not for him. Instead, he began a teaching degree at York, graduating with a BEd in 2007.

In 2010, Edson launched his latest novel, The Goon, at the Bourbon Quarter Restaurant & Bar in Saint John. The choice of venue for this launch was not incidental, as the city of Saint John is important to his writing and serves as a source of inspiration. Edson’s vivid portrayal of the urban area, as well as the working class and underclass, creates a vision of Saint John that highlights the discrepancy between the pre-modern idyllic notion of life in Atlantic Canada and the more complicated reality of the region. In The Goon, the characters Jack Jones and Ruthie both work in the service industry—the Harbour Bridge tollbooth and Three Mile Steakhouse & Pub, respectively. Edson captures the nature of their labour when he writes, "Jack always felt there were better things somewhere else while he worked his shift, a restlessness, a wanting to be somewhere else" (51). This image of urban restlessness is contrary to the touristic vision of the quiet, pastoral life in Atlantic Canada.

The Saint John found within Edson's novels challenges other assumptions and stereotypes about Atlantic Canada. Edson explores these in The Goon through the relationship between the characters Jack Jones and Roy Sweeney. Both characters initially possess false notions about each other: Jones sees Sweeney as sophisticated and educated, while Sweeney fails to see Jones as anything other than a goon, remarking "There was nothing good about him. There couldn't be" (33). The two characters only come to develop a friendship once they see past their preconceived notions of each other.

Edson's novels also deal in part with the search for happiness. For instance, in The Goon, Jones and Sweeney are discontent with their present circumstances and instead toast "To the good ol' days" (83). Jones cannot move past his days of winning the 1992 Allan Cup with the Vito's, while Sweeney still mourns his partner Ken five years after his passing. Sweeney's son Cam considers his father a coward, recognizing his inability to "get on with his life" (99); similarly, Cam constantly muses over the Loyalists who founded Saint John, whom he also sees as cowards. Overall, Edson shows that sometimes happiness comes from letting go of the past: by the end of the novel, Jones and Sweeney take the first step toward improving their situations by coming to terms with their pasts.

Reviews of Edson's work have been positive. The Dirty Milkman and A Place of Pretty Flowers were both long-listed for the ReLit Awards, and The Goon was shortlisted for the ReLit Awards in 2011. At present, Edson is currently working on two more novels, The Moon is Real and Dogs in Heat. The Moon is Real will revisit characters from The Dirty Milkman and A Place of Pretty Flowers, while Dogs in Heat (set in Hell) marks the beginning of an experimental phase.

Michael VanTassell, Winter 2011
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Edson, Jerrod. "The Day I Met Ernest Hemingway." The New Brunswick Reader [Saint John] 7 Aug. 1999.

---. The Dirty Milkman. Ottawa: Oberon, 2005.

---. The Goon. Ottawa: Oberon, 2010.

---. "Killer on the Road." Salon [The Telegraph-Journal, Saint John] 24 Dec. 2010.

---. The Making of Harry Cossaboom. Saint John, NB: DreamCatcher, 2000.

---. A Place of Pretty Flowers. Ottawa: Oberon, 2007.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Cran, Elizabeth. "Maritime Novelists Release New Books." Rev. of The Dirty Milkman, by Jerrod Edson. The Guardian [Charlottetown, PEI] 6 Jan. 2006: C3.

Duder, Paul. Rev. of The Dirty Milkman, by Jerrod Edson. The Danforth Review. 2006. 12 Oct. 2011 <http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/202/300/danforth/2009/no27/reviews/fiction/edson.htm>.

Firth, Matthew. "Avoid the Awards." Rev. of The Dirty Milkman, by Jerrod Edson. Ottawa Xpress 15 Dec. 2005.

---. Rev. of The Goon, by Jerrod Edson. Front&Centre Magazine 25 (25 June 2011). Accessed through Black Bile Press. 19 Oct. 2011 <http://blackbilepress.com/Black_Bile_Press/Book_Reviews.html>.

Landry, Mike. "Saint John's Grit, Grime and Good." Rev. of The Goon, by Jerrod Edson. Salon [The Telegraph-Journal, Saint John, NB] 4 Sept. 2010: S4.

Mandel, Charles. "Finding the Words." Rev. of The Goon, by Jerrod Edson. HERE Weekly 26 May 2011.