Well, after all my whining about missing my family, I'm finally headed back to Winnipeg to see them. Although I'm counting down the minutes until I get to see them all, there is always this anxiety about going back that sits in the back of my throat — the homecoming jitters. There always will be changes (that new Shoppers where the old pool hall was) and yet things always stay the same. Have I changed? Has my family changed? Will everything be different? Partly it's because I'm a bit of an outsider now, having lived away from them for so long but mostly it's just having to go back and face my childhood, my roots.
There is this anonymity that comes with moving away, I can be myself completely unfettered by my past. My friends here don't know who I dated in high school; they haven't seen me pout because I have to sit in the back seat, while my sister, my baby sister, gets shotgun; they don't know about that time I got way too drunk and puked on myself in a bar (then again on — yes on — a cab) when I was 19; or the pink, sparkly-font t-shirt that said "Virgo". Living apart from my awkward growing up years means that I get to dictate what parts of my past stay there and which parts are shared; it's up to my discretion to tell my friends about the time I tried out for cheerleading after watching Bring It On. When I go back to Winnipeg, I am faced with all the embarrassing, unpleasant memories of growing up. And, moreover, having to present myself now, to people who knew me then. It's always a little weird.
But, I'm not alone! There are plenty of books that deal with the awkwardness of the homecoming, the reconciliation of the past and present between the returnee and the... stayees (?). Whether home from jail, or after running off with a man, or from war these books all nail the tension of coming home.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston -- Janie gets back to her small hometown after running off, getting married and living happily, then sadly. Small town gossip hounds her and she needs to tell all those busybodies where to stick it.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden -- Elijah is home from war! No wait, Xavier is home! And he has a morphine addiction! And Windigos are the most frightening thing of all time!
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck -- Jail. Work dried up. Must relocate to California. Treated like shit. Boobs. Things are hard out there for Oklahoma sharecroppers. They just want to keep their family together, but like a horror movie, they get picked off one by one...
Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison -- Dead husband, must go home to try and repair relationships with the daughters left behind when she left her first, abusive husband. That's a real long road made bumpier by the existence of the third daughter, who wasn't abandoned.
Disquiet by Julia Leigh -- Abusive husband. Family reunions with a side of stillbirth and a serving of near-drowning!
Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner -- He just got away. No jail, domestic abuse or war, just grew up and moved away. But now he's back and it's all kind of painful nostalgia, which in my opinion is the second best kind of nostalgia. I mean worst! The second worst kind of nostalgia!
The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesar Pavese -- Home after war. Didn't fight but still, shit's changed now. Lots of longing for simpler times. Things are the same... but different...
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews -- Breakup. Oh shit, sister losing her shit. Must take care of niece and nephew. Not much "me time". Toews is pronounced Taves. I had a boyfriend with the last name Toews and he was too nervous to actually talk to me but he sent me a letter a day while I was on a canoe trip, each four pages long. He also sent me peach gum.
Soucouyant by David Chariandy -- Sick mother. Racism, family drama, mythologies and legends. Looks really good, on my to-read list.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier -- War. Sweethearts separated by war and distance and probably a whole lot of other shit. Zellweger. Ugh, war, amirite?!
Alex Snider is a Toronto-based writer, a Contributing Editor for the Little Red Umbrella and the co-creator of the Once Again, To Zelda blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. You can read the rest of her posts here.