Banjo Lessons

"Tim has no ambition to be an adulterer, but he has no objection to doing the things they do to become adulterers, so before long, he and Nancy are divesting him of his killer turtleneck and his jeans and his fear, and their hands and skin are sliding everywhere delightful as they move. He closes his eyes upon the image of her luminous arms. And opens them again. In silversided nakedness she eyes him with a look of devout lust. And sad. As sad as she can be. She straddles him and guides him, and in the moment it takes the owl to float across the moon, he feels his entire self drawn up into her and engulfed. Gone. He forgets who he is. Or with whom."
Banjo Lessons
, David Carpenter's first novel, is a portrait of the artist as a young nerd. It's the story of Tim Fisher's journey from infancy to age 25. This journey is set in mid-century Alberta, from the discovery of Atlantic Richfield Number One, the oilwell that ignited Alberta's modern history, to the heady chaos of the 1960s lived between the streets of Edmonton and the Banff Rockies. It is a very serious comic novel, the bittersweet drama of a life becoming aware of itself. It reminds us of what it was like to be young, and also, perhaps, of why we never want to be that young again.

Published in April, 1997, by Coteau Books.

Banjo Lessons cover


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Critical Response

Carpenter captures well the madness and ennui of the sixties, however, and this authenticity carries us through Tim’s periods of gloom. Finally, our hero negotiates the rough passage from innocence to experience, and the ending, more cheerful than happy, is entirely satisfying.

- Nicholas Pashley, Globe & Mail

The novel is a perceptive portrayal of a young, wouldbe writer’s rites of passage. Along the way, Carpenter introduces a rich cast of characters who either help or hinder Tim in his search for maturity and understanding. Among them are the two young women who frame Tim’s development: the earthy, elusive Rita, his first crush; and the classily beautiful Nancy, who is attendant at each seminal point in Tim’s development, yet never becomes part of his inner life. Carpenter develops the characters and motives of these women with uncanny perception and sympathy, and demonstrates both verve and understanding with each.
    Banjo Lessons is a compelling romp through wryly familiar situations and relationships, described in a fresh and engaging manner. The novel is also a useful record of how the creative urge, and its faltering but determined expression, develops.

- Roger Burford Mason, Quill & Quire

This first full-length novel is a Joycean lovesong to the Wild Rose province. Carpenter was born and raised in Edmonton, but spent numerous summers working in the rockies. That bred-in-the-bone familiarity with the landscape, and especially the Lake Louise area, suffuses this delightful growing-up novel.

- Ken McGoogan, Calgary Herald

Banjo Lessons is a beautifully polished jewel of a novel. It has solid intellectual substance, a convincing and haunting exposition of a memorable central character, comedy and pathos, and splendidly captured descriptive passages, all combined into a powerful and thoroughly absorbing story.

- Chris Gordon-Craig, The Edmonton Journal

David Carpenter’s Banjo Lessons is a prairie coming-of-age novel which captures in elegant, lucid prose the funny, sad, painful business of discovering the person you were meant to be.

- Guy Vanderhaeghe

Carpenter is a writer of extraordinary power and polish.

- Literature and Language


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