By Fred Stenson
“…[A]n intimately framed tale of classically tragic dimensions in which individuals are ensnared by larger forces–albeit of human, rather than divine, design.”
–Quill & Quire
Fred Stenson has been nominated for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Governor General’s Award, and now turns his attention to one of the most dominate subjects of our time, the devastating impact on our earth of our insatiable need for oil.
Who By Fire is a powerful, passionate novel about the march of “progress” and the environments, families, customs and traditions destroyed in its wake.
The heart of this moving story belongs to Tom Ryder, a man whose expectations for the future and assumptions about his own strength and power are persistently and devastatingly undermined by the arrival of a sour gas plant on the border of his southern Alberta farm in the early 1960s. The emissions from the plant poison not only Tom’s livestock but the relationships he has with his family, most especially his wife, Ella. The Ryders are left without viable legal recourse against the plant, and Tom must watch his farm dwindle away, his sense of himself dwindling away with it.
The novel moves into the present with the story of Tom’s son, Bill, who reacts to his father’s disappointments by rising through the managerial ranks of an oil company. Through Bill we experience the oil sands of Fort McMurray – the intensity of the work, the ever-present risk of environmental disaster and the hard-partying, macho culture that allow tor this pressure’s release. When not at the oil plant, Bill can be found in the local casinos numbing his guilt for having aligned himself with the very forces that destroyed his father. Ultimately Bill pushes himself towards a crisis in conscience through a relationship he has with a Native woman whose community is threatened by the actions of his company.
“Alberta’s Fred Stenson — a writer uniquely qualified to meet this challenge — has done Canadian literature a service by producing the long-awaited oilsands novel.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“Stenson was born in Alberta and has lived with these competing complexities his whole life so this novel is not one-sided…Alberta-born or newcomer, every recipient of petroleum largesse needs to read this book.”
Doubleday Canada, Fall 2014
2015 Nominee for the Forest of Reading® Evergreen Award™