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A Game to Play on the Tracks by Lorna Jackson  

A Game to Play on the Tracks is the story of booze-loose and too-smart singer, Arden, and her failed return to the life of country music and the British Columbia bar scene. She has a new baby, some unhealed hurts, and a husband, Nichol, who is stuck in boyhood and thinks and talks in bad poems. Arden doesn’t survive the road, and the story belongs then to Nichol and Roy the Boy, those left behind to search the west coast for a good home, a good life, a meaningful history. Without Arden, Nichol tries a series of goofed-up love affairs and real estate blunders, and Roy grows up questioning a fallen pastoral world that isn’t always kind to children, haunted by his long-gone mother and her big-city tunes.

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‘Lorna Jackson is a Vancouver Island writer, critic, and teacher. Her most recent book portrays the short life of Arden, bar singer and recent mother, who moves from gig to gig in British Columbia’s lumber and mining towns, unwilling and/or unable to conquer her drinking problem and an emotional detachment from her Vancouver-based husband, Nichol. Arden’s world is edgy and gritty, but, in Jackson’s words, also fluid with meaning. ‘‘In Vancouver,’’ she writes, describing one of Arden’s jobs, ’’this would be the bar of choice for stockbrokers. On creosote stilts above high tide, windows and carpets grimy with salt and algae and body fluids; out there the Johnstone Strait, waters that tag along with hopeful currents to Japan, Russia; a fleet of fish boats, aluminum like bridge girders or wooden-hulled, like artifacts.’’ Arden’s reality is raw and painful, and it leads, halfway through the novel, to her suicide, leaving Nichol to involve himself with a series of women, all of whom have some connection with Arden (whose ghost continues to haunt her husband and son). The book’s conclusion belongs to the boy, Roy, an adolescent struggling to understand his own realities. Jackson’s female characters are all remarkable for their strengths and weaknesses. They force Nichol to confront himself in different ways, tasks for which he has little aptitude.’

—Matt Hartman, Canadian Book Review Annual

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‘The novel follows a series of characters, including Arden, an intellectual singer stuck in the West Coast bar scene whose tale ends with inevitable tragedy; her husband, Nichol, who drifts through a series of disastrous love affairs; and their son, Roy, who meanders through a series of meaningless experiences. The plot is loose at best, as the narrative drifts in and out of the characters’ lives, following emotional notes more than story lines. The episodes are layered with subtext, and there are entire life histories contained in asides. This isn’t the usual Can Lit multi-generational saga of domestic affairs and quiet insights. A Game to Play on the Tracks is as brutally violent as it is introspective, as critical of the domestic life and its enforced passivity as it is of bar louts who want nothing more than endless reruns of AC/DC hits. Rather than writing the literary equivalent of a pop song with artificial and meaningless romances, Jackson has instead embraced the emotion of an improv jazz session, and crafted a tale of beautiful chaos.’

—Peter Darbyshire,

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A Game To Play On The Tracks by Lorna Jackson begins with Arden, a mother who has some very serious problems with alcohol and self-absorption. Arden’s struggle to resume her life of country music at the British Columbia bar scene but is faltering. Her husband has a Peter Pan complex and talks in bad poems. When Arden doesn’t survive the road, both her husband and son are left behind to make sense of an often insane and unjust world. An engaging and thoughtful read, A Game To Play On The Tracks is a sophisticated, albeit moody, reflection on the inequalities and distant dreams of one human life.’

—Midwest Book Review

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‘Arden, raw, witty and dangerous, walks that brittle line between compassion and dissolution. Her absence, when it comes, permeates those closest to her like a West Coast chill: to the bone. Five other voices, in first-person, parable-like chapters, unravel and knit together Arden’s story, which alternates between rough-and-ready New Westminster and back-to-the-land Vancouver Island. ... Jackson knows that rich character is the most compelling element in the contemporary novel, and detail is the stuff from which complexity of character is woven. From this tangled knot of a family, Jackson knits a row of characters that would be awkward in the same room together, but are as comfortable a fit as a favourite winter sweater that smells like dog in rain.’

—Vivian Moreau, Globe & Mail

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‘Jackson is wryly funny and a gymnast of the alphabet, dextrous with both language and meaning. We’re in Lorrie Moore territory.’

—Zsu Zsi Gartner, Malahat Review

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‘Arden is a musician, boozy, mouthy, a gambler with an eye too sharp and a voice too shrill. She carries her own equipment, you better believe it, into and out of motel bars up and down the province, existing on tips and taunts, drifting further and further off course on white wine and old country songs. ...

‘Jackson, a Metchosin writer and former bar singer, has a smart, taut style that never stops. Reading this book was like eating blue cheese: creamy and salty, veined with all the big blue themes of sex, death, memory. The density and richness of the writing are a bit of an acquired taste, and readers may find a little goes a long way. But persistence pays off: Jackson shifts style with every narrator, ending with Roy, who melds his mother’s acid sadness with a teenager’s wistful innocence. The result is worth savouring.’

—Annabel Lyon, Georgia Straight

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‘Twice in this vivid, pyrotechnic novel, women walk into knitting shops that are heaped and hung like Aladdin’s cave with skeins -- brightly dyed, flecked, handspun, synthetic. Proprietresses pull patterns from drawers, dispense yarns and dreams. Lorna Jackson’s first novel is like one of those shops, packed with voice and story, images that catch the skin. ... Jackson’s nine years as a bass player and singer and her day job teaching writing at the University of Victoria are equally in evidence here. Her prose rolls and rollicks, smart and smart-alecky, often with a sting in its tail.’

—Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire

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‘Rich characters also drive Lorna Jackson’s new novel, A Game to Play on the Tracks to rather choice literary heights. Arden is a country singer with a poet-husband going nowhere. For survival’s sake, she heads back to the B.C. bar scene, Roy the Boy in tow. Wyatt is at her best invoking the reek of cigarettes, stale beer, and forty songs a night. ... Arden ‘‘sets the Telecaster’s knobs at sex, dampens the strings with the hardening heel of her hand, and thuds a crunchy rhythm. She coats her voice with fossil fuels.’’ But she does not survive the road. Killing off the heroine early in a novel is usually not a good idea. This time, it works.

‘The story now belongs to those Arden leaves behind; her husband, her son. Nichol mismanages his love affairs while Roy grows up haunted by his dead mother and her songs that weren’t afraid to ride or afraid to die. But the ensuing plot is only secondary to the richness of Jackson’s prose. She’s a gymnast with words and a juggler of phrases. At times the novelist’s language is so evocative, I found myself reading passages aloud.’

—Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun Times

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Everything connects in this novel, and it merits more than one reading if you want to pick up all the significant asides, allusions and nuances. If I have any complaint about A Game to Play on the Tracks, it’s that Lorna Jackson is just too damn smart and quick. But as The Book of Wonder tells us, ‘‘Quick is an old word which means living, or moving.’’ Jackson’s writing is alive, and it moves fast.’

—Carol Matthews, event, Vol. 33.3


Lorna Jackson spent nine years as a musician on the bar circuit in British Columbia before settling on Southern Vancouver Island. She has been a columnist for Quill and Quire magazine, a contributor to the Georgia Straight, and serves on the editorial board of Malahat Review. She is the author of the acclaimed story collection, Dressing for Hope, and her writing has appeared in such magazines as Brick, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, and Canadian Fiction Magazine. She teaches in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria and lives in Metchosin.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Literary

FICTION / General

ISBN-13: 9780889842311

Publication Date: 2003-08-15

Dimensions: 8.81 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 248

Price: $19.95