The Inquirer

By Jay Smith

by Jaclyn Dawn
Newest Press
2019/$19.95/232 pp.

The Inquirer is a tabloid that mysteriously appears at the local convenience store in Kingsley, Alberta. Rather than detailing the lives of celebrities, however, the paper turns up the latest dirt on local residents. This is a first for Kingsley, a quintessential small Albertan town where everyone has known everyone since elementary school and the cast of characters still regularly head out to the same, there’s-only-one-in-town-anyway bush parties. There was already plenty of gossip to go around. What happens when the community’s gaze is turned upon the community itself, thanks to the written artefact of the tabloid, is the stuff of Jaclyn Dawn’s debut novel.

Protagonist Amiah Jane Williams returns from Vancouver when her father breaks his leg and her mother needs help on the farm. She had followed the time-honoured trajectory towards the big city, hoping never to look back. Her return to the Kingsley community, along with her big-city pal, Nathan, functions as a bit of a culture clash. On one hand, there are contemporary urban mores about sexuality and consent. On the other… loyalty? A sense of community?

Dawn’s first novel has an autobiographical flavour and a tone that verges on fable-like. Nonetheless it clips along engagingly. The characters are ably drawn and Dawn succeeds in creating a forward momentum—Amiah is, of course, implicated in the social tumult triggered by the Inquirer.

But this story about a gossip rag that appears at the local convenience store is a strange paean to the age of newspapers. The facts strain credibility—especially about the rag’s profitability. And it’s confusing: are we meant to believe this? Nothing about the tabloid seems functional on a practical level; instead it represents a puzzling naiveté about print and broad strokes about the back-in-time gullibility of small communities.

At the figurative level, Dawn does capture a nostalgia for print media. The Internet can cater to our peculiar individual sensibilities, but in the Internet age we can miss the ability to have an entire community focus on the same thing. In the case of the Inquirer, it doesn’t matter that its authors cull most of the gossip from social media. The ability of a community to direct its gaze towards itself, via the concentrated format of the tabloid, is both revelatory and explosive.

I’ve deliberately left out a lot of plot details in order to avoid spoilers, but Dawn’s depiction of family dynamics set against vividly accurate rhythms of rural life is the book’s strongest feature. Anyone who has left their small community to strike out in search of greater horizons, seemingly unconflicted but actually conflicted, can relate.

—Jay Smith is a journalist and long-time Alberta Views reviewer in Edmonton.

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