Book Review and Interview: The Lonely End of the Rink

Author Grant Lawrence at his book signing and
reading at Windsor's Phog Lounge last November.

It's May 25. We just opened the patio office for the season. It's 71F (22C) degrees at 9:14 p.m. and the air is filled with the sounds of...

Hockey playoffs. Which seems like reason #1 it's a perfect time to review The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie by author/CBC personality/Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence (even if it officially debuted in Fall 2013).

Reason #2: The book was recently awarded the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award at the 30th annual BC Book Prize Gala for "the most outstanding work published in British Columbia this year.” Lawrence's first book, Adventures in Solitude, won the same award.

Reason #3: Father's Day is coming up and you know you're looking for the perfect gift. Order a signed copy here. What? Your dad isn't into hockey? He's not alone. "I'm shocked at how many Canadians have told me 'I'm not a hockey fan,'" says Lawrence. "For a supposedly hockey-obsessed country, I sure have met a lot of non-hockey fans in the last six months, which I think is a statement on the game becoming too big business and too violent. It's off-putting for the average fan."

But you definitely shouldn't be off-put by The Lonely End of the Rink as just a hockey book. In this memoir, Lawrence uses the game to explore plenty of universal themes that will resonate with a wide range of readers. Geeks and nerds versus jocks, the bullied versus the bullies, the arts versus sports, the popular versus the unpopular, love and loyalty in the face of adversity and quite literally, finding the courage to face your fears-- and the shots that inevitably come with it. If you love pop culture references, you'll also love Lonely End of the Rink.

You'll learn a lot about hockey and Lawrence in The Lonely End of The Rink; a third book, in progress, will cover his years with The Smugglers. In an email interview with N2DS2W, Lawrence shares what it was like working on The Lonely End of the Rink, its reception with readers, some Michigan memories, and his recipe for success for the Vancouver Canucks.

Lawrence reads from The Lonely End of the Rink at the Phog Lounge.

N2DS2W: Whether on air or paper, storytelling is obviously one of your skills. Is there a storytelling tradition in your family?

GL: Each and every night growing up, we'd have a family dinner, my mom, dad, little sister and me. And each and every night I would beg my dad to tell me stories of his time growing up in Winnipeg. He and his five brothers and sisters grew up on the banks of the Red River in the 40s and 50s and there seemed to be an endless wealth of adventure stories stemming from that river. He also told stories of his teen years... the various part time jobs he got fired from etc. My dad was always an adventurer, so I think I get my storytelling from him. He doesn't tell too many stories anymore unless we really urge him. My mom's father was a joke-teller, so I think I get my love of humour from that side.

N2DS2W: The Lonely End of the Rink is more autobiographical and less character study than Adventures in Solitude. Was that intentional or organic?

GL: Well, it must have been organic because no one has brought that insight up before and I've never really thought about it! Whether I'm yakking on the radio, or with friends in a pub, or sitting down and attempting to write a book, I try to tell a great story. When it comes to the books, I try to tell one arcing story with many exciting small stories contained within, and I try to keep the pace up. I always try to have a beginning, a middle and an ending... whether it's a one-line joke, a two minute radio host break, or a 300 page book, so what I'm trying to say is... what comes out, comes out, but there's a method to the madness!

N2DS2W: How did the process of writing Rink compare to writing Adventures? Was it easier? Harder? Why?

GL: Both had their challenges. With Adventures in Solitude, because it was my first book and I didn't have a publisher for a long, long time, I wrote it over a five year period, starting in 2005, and releasing it once I finally found a publisher in 2010. Five years is a long time and a lot can happen! The book changed and morphed over time. The Lonely End of the Rink on the other hand, was written and released in just two years, without a lot of time for it to morph and change. Adventures went through about 11 different drafts. The Lonely End of the Rink, barely two complete drafts, but I felt I knew what I was doing a little more which streamlined the process a bit. With both books I constantly question myself as to whether any parts of the book are good, and whether people would be interested in reading them. My concern in entertainment, once I have someone's attention, is not boring them!

N2DS2W: You've tapped two topics that are as much a part of Michigan fabric as Canada: the cottage culture and hockey. Have you had a chance to experience either here? Any good stories/memories about visiting Michigan or the Red Wings you can share?

GL: No, I have never experienced cottaging OR hockey in Michigan! In fact, cottaging is about the furthest thing from my mind when I think of Michigan! I think of industry and factories, assembly lines and cars, and rock 'n'roll bands like the Dirt Bombs, the Detroit Cobras, White Stripes, Von Bondies, MC5, Stooges, and the Supremes. I also think of Kalamazoo because my old band The Smugglers had an early song called "Fun In The USA" with a line that went "where the fuck is Kalamazoo?" (we all shouted it). The song was all about our dreams of touring the States, which we eventually fulfilled and then some. When we unexpectedly suddenly drove under the sign for the exit to Kalamazoo (somewhere between Chicago and Detroit, I think?) we all freaked out. We had no idea Kalamazoo was in Michigan!! We thought it was in the Deep South or something. Anyway, we eventually played in Detroit several times, at places like the Magic Stick and the Shelter, and always had GREAT shows. Many Canadians came over from the University of Windsor and we always had great times. I remember one particular after-party in Detroit, when I got "lucky" with a particularly cute lil' Detroit Debbie... I think she thought it was pretty great that she sacked the cool lead singer. She and I went at it so late that the entire band ended up sleeping over at this Detroit party house. The next morning, I went out of lead singer mode and back to regular day Grant mode. I took out my crusty contact lenses that I had slept in and put on my huge horn rimmed glasses, pulled on some checkered pants, and slipped on a really nerdy cardigan sweater. The Detroit girl I had the one-night-stand with looked at me and said "Oh my god... I think I just fucked Urkel".

N2DS2W: How are people connecting with The Lonely End of the Rink? What are the most frequent comments you hear from readers?

GL: The best compliment any writer can receive, at least from my perspective as a memoir writer, is when people say they can relate to what you write. The golden moment is when they can see themselves in the stories, when the stories become universal. With Adventures I pretty much stumbled into that. I had no idea what a common rite of passage it is to reject what your parents hold dear and try to make you love! ([In this case,] a family cabin in the wilderness.) As for The Lonely End of the Rink, I've heard from a lot of very kind readers who were bullied and went through similar situations that I did. Many can relate, and many appreciate the humour that I bring to otherwise serious and violent situations. However, some reviewers have complained there are too many pop culture references in the book! I can't help that!

N2DS2W: What's the most unexpected thing you've experienced as a result of writing this book?

GL: I've experienced two real surprises... I'm shocked at how many Canadians have told me "I'm not a hockey fan..." The other surprise is when actual hockey moms come to my readings and get the book for their hockey playing kids, and some of them are pretty famous! Edmonton Oilers' forward Taylor Hall's mom came to the book launch in Kingston... she bought a book, got me to sign it for Taylor, and gave me his signed rookie card!

N2DS2W: How would you put the Vancouver Canucks on the road to the Cup?

That's a really tough question. I think with any NHL team (except the rare dynasty teams like Detroit!!) there are peaks and valleys over the years, and the highest peaks (Stanley Cup Finals) and lowest valleys (bottom of the standings) happen anywhere from three to ten years apart. Sadly for the Canucks the valley has happened a lot sooner than anyone predicted, which is a huge problem with no immediate easy fix. The team is built on finesse, whereas the league has turned into a muscle league, a brazen bully league where the biggest team wins, a throw back to the 1970s, and the Canucks, as they showed in the Stanley Cup Final, aren't built for that, so it could be a long time before they are a contender again. Sad as I am to say it, I think the Canucks need to rebuild through the NHL draft. Goodbye twins, thanks for getting us close. The tide is out on the Canucks and it could be a long time before it comes back in. And that's from a long-suffering fan!

Lawrence and members of the DTW~R3

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images