Catherine Cooper is a Nova Scotian writer with a Masters degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her fiction and non-fiction has been published most recently in Brick Magazine and Guernica Magazine. Her first book, The Western Home: Stories for Home on the Range, is a collection of short stories published by Pedlar Press in 2014. White Elephant is her first novel. She lives in Prague, Czech Republic.
Physician Richard Berringer, his wife, Ann, and their thirteen-year-old son, Torquil, have abandoned their home in Nova Scotia and moved to Sierra Leone, despite warnings that the West African country is in a civil war. Two months on, things are not going well. Tensions are rising between Richard and his boss; Torquil—who hates Sierra Leone almost as much as he hates his father—has launched a hunger strike; and Ann is bedridden with illnesses that Richard believes are all in her head. While the Berringers battle with themselves, each other and the worlds they inhabit, the narrative repeatedly returns to their past, shedding light on what brought them together, what keeps them together, why they have come to Africa, and why they might not be able to go home again.
The Western Home
The word nostalgia comes from two Greek roots — nostos, meaning the return home, and algos, meaning pain or longing. The Western Home tells the story of the folk song “Home on the Range” through characters seeking to integrate their experiences of upheaval and alienation into meaning and identity–to transform their longing into belonging, their pain into understanding–by retreat to the safety of an ideal. “Home on the Range” is the protagonist of The Western Home, and the supporting characters are the people who helped shape the song’s destiny by writing, rewriting, singing, recording, claiming and disowning it. Each story in the collection takes place in a different decade following the year of the song’s composition as a poem, in 1872. Beginning with the lonely, alcoholic pioneer, Brewster Higley, who wrote the poem, and concluding with a disaffected teenager who works in a rural Kansas tourist kiosk near the original site of the poem’s composition, this collection explores themes of collective memory, collective forgetting and the loss that is implied in both. Whether they are seeking out ideal landscapes, or pursuing invincible beliefs, or trying to make meaning out of chaos, the characters in these stories are all trying find a way home.