Book Drive is our new series about Alberta authors. There’s no better time to curl up with a good read.
For a book set in small-town Alberta, Jaclyn Dawn’s The Inquirer has a surprising inspiration: Brangelina.
Dawn began writing the book in 2016, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s messy breakup made global headlines. She became fascinated by the tabloids airing the couple’s dirty laundry for “regular” folks waiting to pay for their groceries. She noticed how it felt so normal to read the most intimate parts of strangers’ lives—makeups, breakups, plastic surgeries—even though we’ll likely never meet them in real life.
“I’d wonder, what did those celebrities think of that and what did their families think?” Dawn says. Next, she wondered: what would happen if a small prairie town had a National Enquirer of its own?
Dawn’s debut novel introduces readers to Vancouverite Amiah Williams, who returns to her (fictional) hometown of Kingsley, Alberta (population 1,431) after two years away to help with the family farm. In typical small-town fashion, Amiah immediately bumps into a former flame and sparks fly with a new love interest. Not so typically, however, the details of her romantic life are scrawled on the cover of Kingsley’s popular gossip rag. Soon, all eyes are on Amiah, who’s left to reckon with the past she thought she had left behind.
For Dawn, it wasn’t a stretch to set a Hollywood-inspired dilemma in a place like Kingsley. Dawn herself is from the even tinier, tabloid-less town of Warburg—a place, she says, most people haven’t heard of unless they grew up playing hockey—where people “assume they know everybody and know everything.” The Inquirer is far from autobiographical, Dawn notes, although she shares Amiah’s experience of leaving town to attend university.
Now based in St. Albert, Dawn also saw the book as a rare opportunity to see her home province represented on the page.
“I hadn’t read many books set in Canada, let alone Alberta specifically,” she says. “There’s something special about seeing reflections of home in literature and art, aside from the occasional ‘Canada, eh?’ joke on television.”
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Dawn’s descriptions of the prairie landscape glimmer throughout the book. In the early pages, Amiah reflects on Alberta’s “own kind” of beauty. “In early summer,” the character recalls, “the fields were as thin as Dad’s hair, but time would turn them gold, purple, and the brightest yellow imaginable.”
But The Inquirer is far from a stereotypical piece of Prairies fiction—the kind that traffics in understated domestic drama and characters staring contemplatively across open pastures. The 234-page novel is a speedy read, broken into short James Patterson-esque chapters. Its pairing of high stakes with literary reflections on manipulative relationships and mental health make it hard to place the book within a single genre, Dawn says.
Through well-timed revelations about Amiah’s connection to the town’s tabloid, The Inquirer becomes less about gossip and about power—and how might we reclaim it when the stories people tell about us are out of our control. The plot also quietly alludes to an issue Amiah grapples with, but which she’s unable to put into words. This, Dawn reflects, shows that even the most all-knowing of all-knowing neighbours (or most scandalizing gossip magazines) will never truly know what happens behind closed doors.
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It’s a takeaway Dawn hopes is universal—no matter how global The Inquirer’s inspiration or hyper-local its setting. Dawn dedicates the book to “every woman who has hidden behind a smile” on the opening page.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to everybody,” she says. “You can be a good person and an honest person but you can still just be yourself.”
HOW TO SAVE
Jaclyn Dawn’s The Inquirer is available through Indigo. Members earn up to 5% in reward dollars on online Indigo purchases—including books, giftware, electronics and more—made through the AMARewards eStore.