Stephen Osborne

Belated discovery of the season: John Buell, whose novel Playground was originally published in 1976 and more recently by HarperCollins in a paperback edition bearing the single quote: "Canada's most brilliant suspense novelist.–New York Times." But this is not a suspense novel; rather it is a literary tour-de-force with suspense in it. The premise of Playground is simple enough: well-to-do city dweller finds himself naked in the wilderness of northern Quebec, hundreds of miles from civilization. He recovers wristwatch and cigarette lighter. What happens next and then after that and after that makes a thoroughly compelling narrative unlike anything else I have read. The dark side of Robinson Crusoe, yes, but something more: a reflection of Wilderness such as we feel it waiting there in our peripheral vision sometimes when we drive into the country: implacable, faceless, and deaf. Buell performs miracles in the plainest English imaginable. As I followed his protagonist struggling to use his watch as a compass, for instance, I could feel in my head the dizzying extent of Newton's endless universe of cogs and wheels; it made my mind tired. At night I dreamed of finding ways through Wilderness that I knew to be impossible even as I dreamed them, something that hasn't happened to me since reading Kidnapped when I was twelve years old.

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at


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