In the opening moments of Nelson author Ernest Hekkanen’s latest novella I’m Not You, his unnamed character wakes up in the middle of Manning Park to the scent of decaying alder leaves.
As he floats back to consciousness, he realizes that he doesn’t have any memories—indeed, he can’t even recognize his own face. And as he tries to piece together his identity, ultimately ending up in a drab Abbotsford hospital, he goes through a number of frustrating, Kafka-esque trials.
“I’m always working on something, so when an idea intrigues me I pursue it,” said Nelson author Ernest Hekkanen, who is author of more than 45 books and editor of Kootenay literary journal The New Orphic Review.
“One day I woke up with the smell of damp, decaying alder leaves in my nose for no reason at all. And that’s what got me going.”
Hekannen said the story explores themes of identity.
“When you awake from a beating like that, and I have, you awake knowing how thin the fabric of life really is,” he said.
“Back in my twenties, when I was a war resister and a fairly active one in Washington State, I hit the road with my thumb out like Jack Keroauc. I only got to the eastern part of Washington before I displayed my political statements a little too prominently.”
He has very little memory of the resulting conflict.
“From what I can gather I talked about it over beer in some tavern and later on I was beaten up and left beside the road. I was wandering around not knowing who I was or where I was going until a sympathetic soul pulled over and helped me out.”
This experience, over forty years ago, made such an impression on him that he was sure he would eventually use it in his fiction.
“I refer to is as a tribute to nihilism,” he said, noting that he loves and appreciates the novella form. His book is a slim 125 pages, which he believes makes for a more contained, straightforward experience of the narrative.
“I compare it to a bullfight. We all know what’s going to happen to the bull in the end, but it’s the finesse of the telling that’s the important thing.”
Hekkanen recently received news that a story The New Orphic Review published last year, “Sealskin” by Tyler Keevil, won the prestigious annual $10,000 Journey Prize. Hekkanen, who finances the journal out of his own pocket, said recognition like that is what helps make his artistic endeavours possible.
“It’s nice to receive a somewhat higher profile, because otherwise I have to reach deeper into my pocket,” he said.
Hekkanen will be presenting his novella, alongside Winlaw writer Tom Wayman and Kaslo poet Sandra Huber, at Oxygen Art Centre at 7:30 p.m. on November 14.
Wayman will read his story “Mountain Grown”, which was published in The New Orphic Review, and Huber will read from her poetry book Assembling the Morrow: A Poetics of Sleep.
“My better half suggested I have some other readers because I would depress people too thoroughly,” joked Hekkanen, who said his work is “dramatic but has a comedic flair.”
“I think people who do enjoy existentialist writing will perhaps enjoy it more than people looking for a happy, cheerful, communal read.”
Suggested donation for the event is $5. Copies of I’m Not You and The New Orphic Review will be for sale.