Saturday, March 30, 2024

By Bill Selnes

From Sweetgrass Bridge by Anthony Bidulka

(20. – 1203.) From Sweetgrass Bridge by Anthony Bidulka – Merry Bell is broke and despondent after 6 months as P.I. in Livingsky (Saskatoon), Saskatchewan. Feeling sorry for herself on a late Friday summer afternoon, she is sort of enjoying a bottle of Prosecco and a small charcuterie platter in her office when she gets an email. Trying not to appear too desperate she answers in less than a minute. 

Merry meets the emailer, Ruth-Anne Delorme, Saturday morning. Delorme retains Merry to find the most important person in Saskatchewan, Dustin Thomson, the starting quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team. He has been missing for a week. (The fictional and real life Roughriders play in the Canadian Football League.) 

Dustin is indigenous, a member of the Little Turtle Lake First Nation He disappeared the previous weekend. All the emergency services of Livingsky are searching for him.

Dustin is not only a great football player he is a committed member of the Livingsky community spending time at a local youth centre and speaking at Rider events, schools and fundraisers.

Since graduating from high school Thomson has been living with childhood friend, Calvin Wochiewski, who works as the night janitor at a tech company.

Dustin lives well befitting his star status. He has a luxury apartment. He drives a “Cadillac XT5, matte black with custom matte black grill and rims and Roughrider-green running boards”.

Merry starts asking questions. A meeting with teammates and the head coach is friendly enough but unproductive.

Cassie, from the cheer team, is unfriendly but advises Merry that Dustin has gently spurned her advances and has an unknown girlfriend.

Roger Brown, the electrician husband of Brenda (she operates her design business from an office next to Bell, continues to hope Merry will let him assist her as he longs to be a P.I. and gain material for the true crime podcast, Darkside of Livingsky, he hosts as his secret cross-dressing alter ego, Stella. Anthony deftly explains Roger’s journey in life as a cross-dresser. 

I thought of the real life Clara  Ford from Clara At the Door With a Revolver by Carolyn Whitzman. She was a black woman who liked to dress in men’s clothes. She appreciates the status given to her when dressed as a man. In the book she was charged with killing a prominent member of Toronto society in the 1890’s. She was acquitted in a dramatic trial. 

Merry, who had completed her physical transition from man to woman, before moving to Livingsky, has continuing adjustment issues. She experiments with makeup looking for the image she wants to be as a woman. She hesitates about a pool party as she has never tried on a woman’s bathing suit.

Merry visits the JOY youth centre which primarily hosts BIPOC young people. Dustin was a regular volunteer.

“Full” Stella is far more outgoing and brash than Roger. He worries the lines between Stella and Roger are blurring. He loves Brenda. He is happy in their marriage and as a father. 

At the suggestion of Merry, Roger becomes Stella to assist him. He is excited about being Stella in public. What a remarkable duo – a transgender woman and a cross dressing man! I have not read of a comparable sleuthing team in crime fiction.

Merry’s landlord, Gerald, continues to attract and repel her. He calls her Sweet Lips. She wants to be offended but he is charming. Is there a possible romance?

She talks to a Rider. Dylan is a big bald guy with a luxuriant handlebar moustache. (For older Saskatchewan readers think of former Rider centre, Bob Poley.)

Merry, Roger and Brenda have a nice evening at Merry’s home, the Junk House. Intended to be a house warming, it becomes Merry’s 30th birthday party.

In a brilliant scene Merry goes to visit Roger at home and is greeted by Stella. Merry is stunned. It was an amazing scene to imagine.

The twists are excellent as we start to learn of Merry’s life in Livingsky before she left for Vancouver. Merry faces unexpected emotions about her life as a teenage boy.

The resolution stretched my credibility but the complexity of relationships explored was breathtaking. Identities past and present, festering resentments, faces and bodies unrecognized after profound change, hurts given and received, confessions, regrets, the chance for new friendships and hope moved me. All of us are fragile in our own ways. I consider From Sweetgrass Bridge Anthony’s best examination of human vulnerability.

I read the book with special interest as Anthony made me a character in the book in my real life role as a sports reporter. My next post will discuss my thoughts on appearing in fiction.

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