Coming of age on the East Coast

Michael Winter’s Newfoundland-based novel makes it to the Canada Reads shortlist

Canadian author Michael Winter’s novel Minister Without Portfolio explores the protagonist’s hardships after his return from an army-affiliated contractor job.
Canadian author Michael Winter’s novel Minister Without Portfolio explores the protagonist’s hardships after his return from an army-affiliated contractor job.

Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio — one of five books selected for the Canada Reads 2016 shortlist — presents the intricate beauty of one man’s personal story.

The novel follows the transformation of Henry Hayward from a rootless and broken state to a point where he finds connection to the land and the people around him.

Having left his home in Newfoundland after a breakup to seek a “dangerous life” as a contractor with the Canadian military, Henry returns with a different objective — to make things right at home by putting down roots and taking over the responsibilities of a fallen comrade. 

In his novel, author Michael Winter doesn’t shy away from describing the messiness of life and the human condition.

The protagonist is shown in both positive and negative lights. The author highlights the hardships Henry endures and the mistakes he makes throughout his life, as well as the repercussions he then faces. 

Winter’s at his best when he’s weaving the story line of an individual’s experience with a view of the tight-knit coastal lifestyle. 

Using intricate family histories, the author illustrates the complexities of small town living and shows the willingness of individuals to help one another, using Hayward’s journey to describe the nature of life along coastal Newfoundland. 

With Henry as his lens into the life of the people around him, Winter provides readers with a connection to the protagonist and the setting.

The character was born and bred in Newfoundland, but becomes disconnected from the land and the people before experiencing a turning point in his life. 

This, in a way, makes him an outsider. His journey to become an integral part of the community allows the reader to follow along and gradually become accustomed to the people, the land and expectations that surround Henry in his journey. 

Winter’s unusual writing style, which builds dialogue into the text without the use of quotation marks, takes some getting used to. But it’s a worthwhile adjustment. 

By the end of the novel, you’re wholly invested in the fate of Henry and the community as a whole, leaving you with the urge to experience the East Coast lifestyle by getting in your car and riding east until you hit the ocean. 

 

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