A one-time Red Deer resident turned gifted writer has penned a powerful book set in the bleakness of the Great Depression.
Rod Prendergast, author of The Impact of a Single Event, has released Dinner with Lisa. It’s the compelling story of Joseph Gaston, a widower with four children caught in the poverty-stricken realities of the Depression in western Canada.
Readers meet him on a train heading across Canada, and will be immediately struck by Prendergast’s skill at describing scenes from Joseph’s struggles with managing the youngsters to a horrifying health scare with his youngest. You can’t help but feel the pressure, brooding uncertainty and fear of the future building.
Joseph arrives in the town of Philibuster, earnestly seeking security. But almost nothing goes his way. Destitution forces him to consider giving up his children in order to save them. He attempts one last desperate act—on the night he learns about the mysterious Lisa.
Ultimately, the book taps into an array of emotions and settings from heartfelt desperation and anxiety to light and humourous moments, too.
And there is always a striking air of realism about it; Prendergast has done his homework as he meticulously paints a picture of another era. Readers are introduced to a time of unimaginable hardship; there was virtually nowhere to turn in those desperate times if you didn’t have a circle of family and friends.
Interestingly, Dinner with Lisa is based partly on the stories of the author’s own family. “For years I listened to my relatives recounting their childhoods, and talking of the unusual characters they’d known,” explains Prendergast, who now lives in Edmonton.
He found the stories thoroughly enjoyable, but didn’t think about recording them. Before the concept for Dinner with Lisa came about, he started asking questions about the past from relatives and his imagination took it from there.
“I began asking my mother and father about some of the tales my grandparents used to tell. They remembered some details, but many of the stories had been forgotten – lost forever.”
But after completing his first book, Prendergast wrote down the recollections of his parents and their older siblings.
Looking back, Prendergast didn’t set out to be a writer. After years working in sales, marketing and management he spent a year’s sabbatical surfing and reading in New Zealand and began to write. Those first ideas became the backbone of The Impact of a Single Event—which was long listed for the Independent Publishers Book Award for literary fiction, and which became a national bestseller in Canada.
“My wife was studying there at the time,” he recalls of those richly creative days in New Zealand. Prendergast found himself buried in books to devour and couldn’t have been happier at the thought. But then he started getting his own thoughts about plots and characters.
Something was stirring and The Impact of a Single Event began to take shape. “I had a rough draft draft when we returned to Canada, and I got lots of good feedback.”
Fine-tuning came with editing, and the finished product clearly struck a chord with readers. Even with the book’s success, he didn’t consider writing another – at first. But the collection of tales he had written down and hear grew thanks to those discussions with family members – a great uncle’s experience in the First World War, his mother’s memories of the neighbourhood corner store, his father’s memories of life on a dairy farm.
“I started writing down the stories I had heard when I was eight or nine years old,” he explains.
An idea for a new story was born. “I started to see how I could connect these ideas together and the characters that surrounded them.”
Before long, he was researching the time periods in which the stories took place – and was inspired to write Dinner with Lisa.
To capture the tone of the period, Prendergast pored over Alberta newspaper articles from the time, and even used Red Deer as a kind of model for Philibuster, imagining what it would have been like in its earliest days. It helped him imagine the what the layout of a prairie town at that time would have resembled.
He also found that Alberta wasn’t spared much hardship during the ravages of the Depression. Still, there is humour, drama, love and poignancy surfacing throughout Dinner With Lisa as well. This is not a stale, two-dimensional look at a part of our past – these characters bristle with life, feeling, pain and vitality; we care about what happens to them and it’s Prendergast’s dedication to ‘digging deep’ that fuels that authenticity.
Readers can be thankful Prendergast decided to branch out into a distinctly different ‘career’. He is currently working on his next book.
Check out www.rlprendergast.com.