Review of Unlocking the Tin Box

Review by Jannett Dunnett author of The Dwindling

Midway through this romp through time, from the 60’s to the edge of the book’s publication in 2019, the author’s sister states what I think this book is about. “It isn’t all about Maggie and Maggie’s world.”

But her sister is wrong. It is about Maggie’s world. And this is what makes the book such a compelling read. Its structure is stream of consciousness. We first encounter Maggie as a five year old, luring suckers to her carnie father’s fixed game of chance. The book ends with her reflections on being a grandmother and her way ahead on the brink of being 70. References to history season the story. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, the Beatles, the summer of love, and BC’s missing women reality are waypoints to orient the reader in time.

In this book, the reader can’t help but cheer for this preschooler, teenager, young mom, middle aged wife, and finally a senior, fighting for her right to make her own mistakes. Growing up in a hardscrabble BC family with two drunken parents, so poor that one Christmas the only food in the house was a can of spaghetti, Maggie evolves as she matures, always trying to do better than what was done to her.

Though the title, Unlocking the Tin Box, refers to artifacts from her father’s life, this story line is just one of many in this 400 page deeply detailed narrative. All the vignettes are strongly rooted in place. Whether in Vancouver, Kamloops, Hope, Terrace, Prince George, Los Angeles and ultimately on Vancouver Island. We feel the discomfort of these “dumps” on the other side of the tracks in vivid descriptions, like how one home was heated with burning tires.

I would have liked more reflection on this technicolor life. When it comes though, it is juicy. “I think dad was running away from his failures” , she says as she contemplates her nomadic childhood. Her child self sees her mother’s drinking through a lens of comfort, “mother’s best friend was a guy named Johnnie Walker”. She’s obsessed with the excitement of hitchhiking, and accepts her sexual exploitation and close calls with rape with the offhand comment “I never expected a good outcome when I was alone with a man”. Was her blasé attitude to sex, “it that all there is?” a result of her experiences, or did it make her vulnerable to abuse? The reader must decide. But the thread of her approach to life that makes this book come alive, comes from her father’s mantra, “If you’re ever getting run out of town…get out in front and pretend it’s a parade”.

I loved this book. It feels true. It deeply engages. It’s Canada’s answer to the best selling American memoir, The Glass Castle. And it deserves the same acclaim.

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About Gwynne Hunt

I am a writer, activist, producer, director and creative performance artist. My new book Through My Lens is based on newspaper clippings going back to 1928; the stories in-between the clippings are about my mom Gunvor Berglund, my step-dad Ronald Robinson and my DNA father Harold Larsen. How did they come together to make me? Some of the research was shocking, some funny but it left me to define the parts of the story I did not know. a tribute to my three parents. My last book, Unlocking the Tin box is about my journey into trying to find our who I was, who my father was; a complicated con man and a carny. But he was more than that and the journey took me as far as doing DNA tests, digging through his old tin box and an examination of my own life. Published by Silver Bow Publishing, available from the Publisher, Amazon and the Author. Fifteen years ago, the book ‘Rampage; the pathology of an epidemic’ written by me was released at the International Celebration of Women in Abbotsford. The book is my personal journey over six years working on the book and the Memory March (a walk/vigil honouring over 4,000 missing and murdered women and children in Canada). It includes interviews with grassroots' workers she met. There are a lot of individual, concerned people who work to end violence against women. One of those women is Mary Billy, a writer and activist in Squamish. There are interviews, case stories and conversations with family member’s who have lost loved ones. The book is not about how we are going to end the violence but an examination of the problems, concerns and stereotypical thinking that keeps us trapped in a cycle of violence. Included are the names of 4,000 missing and murdered women and children that have been compiled for The List. Other books include bruises & bad haircuts (poetry) and Bob & Boo. (illustrated by my grandkids)
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