THROUGH MY LENS by Gwynne Hunt
Review by Elma Schemenauer
When Gwynne Hunt was 69, she discovered that her biological father wasn’t Ronald Robinson, as she had always thought. He was Harold Larsen. In her biographical book THROUGH MY LENS, she tells the stories of her stepfather, her father, her mother—Gunvor Berglund—and many people in their lives.
The book spans the years from the 1920s into the early 1980s, and takes place in parts of Ontario and Western Canada, especially British Columbia. It explores aspects of the Great Depression, military service, poverty, unstable families, alcoholism, and crimes ranging from shoplifting to forgery to drug dealing and scams of various kinds.
The three parents Hunt portrays in the book all came from church backgrounds, but rejected religious influences as they grew up. Though they often behaved in ways that were not admirable, honest, or morally upright, their story held my attention from beginning to end.
Hunt is a strong writer with good insights into personality and character. Examples:
-“Ron and Marie never settled into a happily married life. The two of them never settled into anything.”
-“She did not feel like the girl who grew up on the farm anymore, with morals and love in her heart.”
-“He turned every life experience into something grander than it was.”
-“He knew he had not lived up to his potential as a man, a husband, or a father.”
I’m interested in history so I especially appreciate Hunt’s historical references and insights. Examples:
-“During World War I he was a pigeon keeper, helping the war effort with training homing pigeons.”
-Regarding the Great Depression: “They were not all that sad about going to jail; three squares a day.”
-Regarding after-effects of military service: “He still had nightmares from the war. Harold never really knew how to reach out for help, not for his drinking and not for his trauma suffered during World War II.”
-“When they all started smoking, it was portrayed as glamorous and harmless.”
Sometimes I wish the author had written in a more chronological way, for example, when recounting the events of Gunvor’s earlier years. Occasionally I wasn’t sure what was happening, for example, regarding some scams the characters perpetrated. On the whole though, I enjoyed THROUGH MY LENS and recommend it. The newspaper clippings reproduced at the end are a nice addition.
Elma (Martens) Schemenauer is the author of 70-plus books published in Canada and the United States. One is YESTERCANADA: HISTORICAL TALES OF MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE. Another is the 1940s-era Saskatchewan Mennonite novel CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS. Both are published by Borealis Press of Ottawa. Her website is https://elmams.wixsite.com/elma .