Post Your Opinion
Golden Bough, Ont. - Eva Tihanyi Speaks with Tim Wynween
by Eva Tihanyi

Born and raised in Leamington, Ontario, Tim Wynveen, forty-five, has spent more than a decade as a copy editor and writer in Toronto. He has worked for Maclean's, Environics, as well as publishers of cookbooks, computer manuals, and genre fiction. He is currently employed by a well-known investment firm. Before turning to writing, he enjoyed a successful career as a professional musician, touring and recording with performers such as Chris de Burgh, Marc Jordan, and Edward Bear. His first novel, Angel Falls, was published this year by Key Porter. I spoke with Wynveen in Toronto where he works and lives with his wife and two children.

ET: For readers who have not yet read Angel Falls, could you say a few words about it?

TW: The narrator, Benoni Van Buskierke, is called home to Angel Falls by a family tragedy. All his life he has tried to forget his past, but on his return to Angel Falls, he is so shaken that he finally feels the need to explain. He begins to sift through the family artifacts, searching for the meaning behind the myths and rituals, the totems and taboos that animated his deluded family.

ET: Have you written any short stories at all, or did you jump right into the novel form?

TW: I wrote a few stories when I first started, but very quickly stopped. Although I love reading good short stories, I find I'm not inspired to write them. But when I finish a good novel, I think, "I've got to do this." And what I love about novels is their depth, their intricate architecture, the way they can get under your skin and stay with you for the rest of your life. Short stories, it seems to me, are more impermanent. But I know from experience how much goes into a novel over the course of nearly four years of writing. And in really good novels you feel that investment of spirit, the dedication. When it works, it is a grand achievement.

ET: When did you first become interested in writing?

TW: I can almost remember the day. I was in Grade Five, and one day I stayed after class, writing this long story about space travel, if I remember correctly. That's when I realized how much fun writing could be. I kept at it, and throughout high school I wrote poems and stories and plays. It was also in high school that I started to play music. I was good at it, and it was easy-much easier than writing. In university I thought, "I can slave away in private, be a poet, sell maybe a hundred books of my poems, or I can get on stage in front of 30,000 people and play music." It seemed an easy choice at the time.

ET: But now you seem to have traded in the music for the writing.

TW: I don't play music at all now, and I'm a bit surprised how easily I let it slip out of my life. But then I've never ever stopped reading and writing. That has always seemed unthinkable. Throughout my music career, I was a faceless sideman, with hours and hours of time to read and write and think. That was when I continued my education.

ET: What was the actual starting-point for Angel Falls?

TW: I suppose it was my reading of The Golden Bough [by J. G. Frazer], which I came to after reading Freud and some of the post-Freudians like Norman O. Brown, who quote Frazer a great deal. Frazer's subtitle is A Study in Magic & Religion-in other words, the things we believe or are led to believe. He goes on to describe the emergence of magicians/shamans/witch doctors in early cultures, and their gradual evolution into religious figures. As I read his book, I kept picturing a man like Ben, my narrator, someone sifting through the family history, trying to understand the myths and rituals that organized his life. I really believe The Golden Bough is an important book, something everyone should read. I mean, I don't know whether his theories still hold water, or if they ever did-I'm not an anthropologist. But to me it was like stumbling upon the family story of mankind. I re-read it now almost the way I would read the Bible. And the writing is so good.

ET: There's poetry to it, isn't there?

TW: Exactly. It seems more literature than anthropology. His sentence structure is elegant, the kind of thing you might expect from an artist rather than a scientist. And there's a sly sense of humour.

ET: Do you realize you echo that style in parts of Angel Falls?

TW: I did that consciously. The Golden Bough is Ben's favourite book. It only made sense to have his writing style influenced by Frazer. I also tried to echo The Golden Bough with my symbolism and imagery-so that readers would get these pictures that are almost like personalized tarot cards: the magician, the sacred tree, the hanging boy. I wanted to recreate the sense I got from reading The Golden Bough. And it is this: We all share this dark and irrational past-so in a way the novel is a cautionary tale. Don't forget where we come from, the quirky blood that flows through our veins. If we don't pay attention to it, if we don't govern it, that's when husbands beat their wives and children, or worse. On the other hand, as dark as our story may be, it is also unbelievably uplifting. We've come so far, despite everything.

ET: At the end of the novel, Ben says that our contemporary lives are relatively civilized, "placid affairs", contrasted to the primitive cultures discussed in The Golden Bough. Do you truly think the present is that much better than the past?

TW: Without a doubt. The brutality and barbarism of the past were an integral part of the culture. We only approach that kind of insanity when things go wrong: in Waco or with Jeffrey Dahmer or the Solar Temple-or in Angel Falls.
ET: Where does literature fit into all of this?

TW: From the beginning of time, we have told stories in an attempt to make sense of the world, and ourselves. We created religions and mythologies out of the desire to explain the workings of the world around us. We're not that much different today. Our stories are more sophisticated, perhaps, more personal, but they are inspired by the same need to explain.

ET: Lucien, Ben's maternal grandfather, is almost a mythical character. He's a politician, a magician, an orator. The family devil. Is he patterned on anything in The Golden Bough?

TW: Not specifically. But according to Frazer, magicians evolved into religious figures. My guess is that politicians are the next step in the progression-all three professions selling delusion and calling it truth. Also, to return to something I said earlier, The Golden Bough deals with the darkness and irrationality that reaches across the centuries to influence our lives today. For instance, I can't put up a Christmas tree without thinking of Frazer's descriptions of tree worship, the festivals during the winter solstice. And Lucien serves that purpose in Angel Falls. He connects the family to that dark and irrational time when a lot of the family's "beliefs" were created.
ET: He seems almost Shakespearean-a charismatic villain.

TW: I never thought of him that way, but it's an interesting idea. There is a Shakespearean effect in the book, however-the when-fair-is-foul-and-foul-is-fair kind of device. The lives of the main characters of Angel Falls are so hopelessly tangled that sometimes their best actions have the worst consequences, and their worst acts have the best consequences.

ET: Why does Ben feel so responsible for things he didn't do?

TW: That's the dynamics of families, I'm afraid. As Ben points out in the novel, there is a vast grey area between our griefs and our guilts. It's hard to know where to draw the line.

ET: Ben remarks at the end of the book, "Our family narratives become our family ties." Can you comment?

TW: I'll go back to what I said earlier about our need to tell stories. Without them, I doubt we would have a society at all. They provide our moral lessons, our context. They act as a form of restraint to keep us from falling back to our baser selves. Ben's problem is that for the first forty years of his life, he heard few stories. The important figures in his life were either incapable or unwilling to communicate. He made matters worse by trying to forget he had a family, a past. It is only when he discovers the narrative that preceded his, that his own story begins to make sense, that he begins to reconnect, to feel alive.

ET: Let's talk about Ben's childhood friend Guenther for a minute. Ben says, as an adult, that he is now "free of the alien perspective, free of my morbid attachment to Guenther and all pretenders to the throne." What throne? And how was Guenther a pretender to it?

TW: The throne is fatherhood, the source of wisdom, guidance, and the narrative line. Even before Ben's father dies, Guenther has usurped that role. But at best Guenther is a stand-in. He can never give Ben what Ben really needs: the family story, the context. Instead, what Ben gets is the alien context. As the novel proceeds, other characters take on the mantle of surrogate father, but they too are pretenders to the throne.

ET: Ben promises himself that he will spare his own daughter the silence that he himself "endured as a child." In this context, silence seems unhealthy, dangerous almost. But earlier in the book Ben says about his music, "The secret to my success in the studio is not so much the notes I play but the spaces between them. In music, there are only so many notes, but an infinite number of silences." Are the silences in language and music different?

TW: Well, there are certainly different kinds of silences. In Ben's life, it is as though the melodies have been silenced, strangled. That's quite different from the kind of silence that can soothe and refresh. In music, of course, silence can be very valuable. It provides shape. It exists in concert with the music, not in competition. But as Ben's recording career progresses, the silences threaten to overtake the music. His life begins to infect his art, and he comes very close to being swallowed by silence. He even names his daughter Miranda, which of course is the "right to remain silent"..

ET: Ben's family is severely dysfunctional, and yet, despite the fact that both his parents have committed suicide, Ben ends up optimistic. The book ends on a positive note. What is it about Ben that enables him to be so hopeful despite everything he's been through?

TW: Well, that is the essential question. And the easy answer, is his story saves him. He is not his parents; he only shares part of their sorry fate. He's lucky. He allows numerous people to momentarily break through the gloom and brighten the edges of his life. Beyond that, I would say it is his need to know. All his life he is looking for the truth. Near the beginning of the book, he writes, "I had a junkie's need to see things, to discover first-hand the wonderful, magical, terrible truth of the world." This is his strongest impulse and his saving grace, even though it sometimes brings him grief.

ET: I understand you're working on a second novel. Are you finding it easier the second time around?

TW: Yes. I'm a much better writer than when I started Angel Falls, so I waste less time and energy. But then, I felt much the same after every one of the countless drafts I did for Angel Falls. I must have told my wife a hundred times, "Ah, now I know what I'm doing!" To her credit, she never once rolled her eyes at me.

ET: Is this new work as dark as Angel Falls?

TW: At this point it's a much lighter story. I might even be tempted to call it a comedy. But then, it's only the first draft.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us