Author Will Ferguson on His New Book, Calgary and Banana-Cream Pie
The Giller Prize-winning Calgary author's newest book, The Shoe on the Roof, was published this past October.
photograph by Genki Alex Ferguson
Calgary author Will Ferguson.
Three messiahs walk into a lab. It’s not a joke, rather, the basis for Calgary author Will Ferguson’s latest book The Shoe on the Roof. The novel follows a Harvard neurology student who attempts to relieve three men of their delusions that they are Christ in hopes of winning back his ex. “It’s your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-cure-three-men-who-think-they’re-Jesus,” says Ferguson. “Just a classic love story.”
We talked with the Giller Prize-winning author about his new book, life in Calgary and the Blackfoot Truckstop Diner.
photograph supplied by will ferguson
What exactly is this book about?
It’s about the danger of certainty and about the collision of faith and science. Everything kind of came out of the story. Once you’re dealing with Jesus, you have to deal with faith. Once you start dealing with science, you have to start dealing with that [collision between the two].
What surprised you while writing this book?
I thought it was going to be more serious. I was surprised at the humour — it wasn’t my intention when I started — but when you put those weird, different characters in the same room, and they start arguing, it’s pretty funny.
The novel’s setting is Boston, but it’s actually a conflation of a few places. Why?
It’s a Calgary point of view in a Montreal setting pretending to be Boston. It’s easier for me to set a book in Calgary, but [for this book] it doesn’t work because you need a rich Catholic heritage. I’m Presbyterian, and Presbyterians don’t have the iconography of the saints and the rituals and the candles. You don’t have those tactile or sensory layers, and as a writer you want that. Catholicism seemed really rich, so it made sense to set it in Montreal. To be honest, I moved it to Boston at the last minute [to make story elements involving private medical practices plausible].
Did Calgary inspire anything in the novel?
My first draft, I had this image of scientific labs, all sterile with people walking with clipboards, so I went to the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary and they showed me around their lab. They’re all cluttered, there are all these refrigerators wedged in every which way, and as an author you want those telling details.
Do you have any favourite spaces in the city?
I love the Blackfoot Diner. I told my son there used to be three kinds of pie: apple, lemon-meringue and banana-cream, and these days you can’t find banana-cream anywhere except the Blackfoot Diner. They still have it the way it’s supposed to be, this weird, neon yellow, with a bunch of cream and slices of real banana. When he was 16, I took my son there, thinking this was going to be a father-son moment, and halfway through he said, “I think I know why they don’t make it anymore.” I think I was singlehandedly keeping banana-cream pie afloat in Calgary.