Manning up

Father figures and heroes get their due in Grant Lawrence’s coming-of-age memoir, Adventures in Solitude.

Three men stand tall in Grant Lawrence's story: father, mentor and figurehead.

They're bound together by place, Desolation Sound, "a collection of deep inlets, islands and coastal mountains found at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia," as Lawrence writes in his coming-of-age memoir, Adventures in Solitude.

In the mid-70s, successive provincial BC governments created the 14,000-acre Desolation Sound Marine Park and allowed minimal private ownership, a practice going back generations. The author's father nabbed an inexpensive 180 acres. "Dad's ideal was to build rustic, livable cottages, constructed far enough apart from one another so as to provide natural privacy by the lay of the land, and to disrupt the surrounding wilderness as little as possible," he writes.

The 38-year-old CBC Radio 3 music journalist and former frontman of The Smugglers further illustrates his father's image on the phone, prior to his Halifax book launch. "When I was a little kid I saw a log fall on my dad's chest and he just reached under it with both ends and pushed it up and off of him," says Lawrence. "I've seen him fall off a cliff before and pretty much bounce."

More than his father's sidekick, Russell Letawsky, who's met while camping out on a neighbouring lot, offers another iteration of the hero to young Lawrence. A hermetic, hirsute pipe-smoker (and modest pot-grower, comparatively), Letawsky mentors the author in music and philosophy.

Despite their contrasting characters, Lawrence's dad and Letawsky cooperate. One of their triumphs together comes when they dig a well down through the landscape's tough layer of "hard pan."

"He's literally in a state of shock," says Lawrence of Letawsky, who's gained local legend status from the book, but dismisses the notoriety. From Letawsky and others Lawrence gained wisdom: "Growing up we learned the word truth is essentially absolute. But it's a completely subjective word."

This has implications for historical truth. Enter Captain George Vancouver. With his two sailing ships, the British explorer arrived at, charted and named (without irony) Desolation Sound in the storm-struck summer of 1792. Lawrence quotes Captain Vancouver, a sullen superhero of the expeditionary age, throughout Adventures, less often to refute him than to use him as a narrative counterpoint and an emotional counterbalance to his own high-spirited adventures.

A statue of Vancouver stands in his namesake city. "Essentially he looks like Harrison Ford: really strapping chest, broad shoulders and chiselled Roman profile," says Lawrence, raised in West Vancouver and living in the city with his wife, singer-songwriter Jill Barber. "And that's not what he looked like at all. He was a short, portly fellow who was a little big overweight, a little bit paunchy."

The truth, and the heroes that embody those truths for the rest of us, change, if they don't fall outright. This goes for Lawrence's father, whose relationship to Desolation Sound is now remote, according to the son.

"That development in Desolation Sound: that is his kingdom," says Lawrence. "He's aged and his interests have changed as he becomes an older man. It's hard for me to understand that because now I'm that age he was when he was that rough 'n' tumble adventurer."

Grant Lawrence launches Adventures in Solitude w/Jill Barber , Tuesday, November 16, 7-9pm, FRED, 2606 Agricola Street, free

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