Minister Without Portfolio by Michael WinterMinister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio

byMichael Winter

Paperback | February 25, 2014

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Henry Hayward has been living life the way he's wanted—working hard, playing hard—but when his girlfriend tells him she's leaving, it destroys him. In a quest to recover, he joins an army-affiliated contracting crew that takes him overseas to a Canadian base in Afghanistan. In the company of friends, he begins to mend: having laughs and being rebellious, blithely unaware of all he's left behind. But everything changes during a roadside incursion when a routine patrol turns fatal. And Henry, who survives, knows in his heart that he is responsible.

Upon returning home, tormented by guilt, he resolves to take care of the people and places around him: Martha Groves, whose boyfriend was killed in Afghanistan; his friends and neighbours; and a summer home that needs revitalizing. Henry tries his best to seek roots after a rootless life, collecting around himself a "community of a hundred people" for whom he cares deeply and is responsible. But he hasn’t factored in family history and social infidelity—and Martha has a revelation of her own that may change everything.

Minister Without Portfolio illuminates the power and violence of self-creation. It asks: To whom are we beholden? Who do we adopt—and who couldn't we live without? It is an emotionally affecting work, filled with truths about the frailties and miracles of human nature, by a writer of exceptional talent.

MICHAEL WINTER is the author of The Architects Are Here, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and The Big Why, which was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His previous novel, The Death of Donna Whalen, was nominated for the Writers' Trust Fiction P...
Title:Minister Without PortfolioFormat:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 8 × 5.13 × 0.94 inPublished:February 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143187805

ISBN - 13:9780143187806

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Read Good read, was not what I was expecting. Very realistic with PTSD symptoms as Henry returned from war.
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from There is a possibility for you to enjoy this, especially if you are a teen. You see—I cannot reconcile this book; I cannot remember anything about it, to be honest. After being introduced to the Canada Reads debate by my English teacher, I decided that I wanted to read a majority of these Canadian novels. Minister Without Portfolio was one of them. I wanted to read one of those books that are comical, but come with a point. Maybe this is because I'm a teenager; I just do not get these "adult concepts." By concepts, I simply mean adult situations. I have not been tormented in the way that Henry has, or have had marriage issues. I just could not relate to this book or the author's writing. This story seemed like a chore, not a book that I read just for enjoyment. If you are older than I am and enjoy these simple, philosophical stories, this could simply could go well for you. I am not saying that a teen cannot like this—no. There is a large possibility, but everyone always has their different opinions on books. But hey—there are positives. There are things that I actually enjoyed about Michael Winter's story. He must be a popular author for those reasons. Winter creates a character who acts like he's in his mid-life crisis, which seems comical but is completely serious. Henry deals with some kind of PTSD, stress disorder that takes him out of living his normal, ordinary life. He walks around, but as I could tell, there was no meaning in his footsteps. He moved through the story being quite depressed, which demonstrated a completely depressing mood for the whole story. I am still confused to this moment if that was what the book was supposed to provide; I could just not tell. Minister Without Portfolio is a story where the readers endure. They endure all of the plot's events and how Henry goes on his own personal journey of his life. Once again, I am unable to relate to Henry's character in any way, which is something I usually rave about a character after reading a great book. This seemed a little too boring for my liking. If you expect some serious action, this is not the right story for you. Instead, we have a slow-moving continuation of a man's life and how he himself cannot contemplate his own feelings. What are the great things about this story? It's written by a Canadian author in a Canadian setting, it's extremely comical, and you feel bad if you put it down. I endured some kind of sympathy for Henry, for a man who is stereotypically supposed to undergo his feelings and save himself. I found myself giggling from time to time, and you seriously cannot take this book seriously. Everything was meant to be placed into this book for a reason, but there are only a few readers who understand why, and see the positivity; I am not one of them. There, I have said it. I am not the biggest fan, whoop dee-doo.
Date published: 2017-01-17

Bookclub Guide

US1. Q: Like your previous novels This All Happened and The Architects Are Here, Minister Without Portfolio has some autobiographical elements, most notably the incinerator scene. Do you find it cathartic to explore these experiences through a fictional prism? And considering the painful and tragic accidents that seem to occur when Henry’s around, should your friends and readers be leery of sitting too close to you?I write about things that I’ve experienced or have heard happen because the event suggested some kind of significance. I was scuba diving once and everything under water felt important. The lens you look through magnifies objects, so a lobster looks three feet long until you reach out to touch it. But the friction of water slows down movement and the experience feels like it has cinematic importance: “They are slowing down the film, this must mean something!” is the feeling one has.So too with the memory I have of certain experiences. I know in my gut they have some resonance if only I trap them well on the page. With the incinerator incident I had to turn half of the scene over to the two men who watched me fall in. They were sitting in a truck drinking rum, and I realized that what they were experiencing must have been shocking. So, I had to invent what their reactions would be, how they would feel. I knew, at that moment on the page, it was more interesting to see their response to my falling in than to stay with me in the bottom of the inferno.A friend of mine works on the Hibernia oil platform. Dangerous work. After I was hit by a humpback whale, he told his friends about it. They asked, “Is that the same guy who fell down the inciner- ator?” “Yes, it is,” my friend said. They told him, “Tell your buddy he should stay indoors.” So that’s what I do most often. Stay indoors and write it all down.2. Q: Likewise, Henry gets up close and personal with a whale while out in his dory, in much the same manner as in the online video of a humpback whale thudding into the side of your boat back in 2011. How did it feel to survive an encounter with a whale and then to become the star of a viral video as a result? ( had the camera out there in the dory because my partner, Christine Pountney, had just returned in the boat and said she’d been hit by a whale. I didn’t believe her. So I rowed out there and suddenly I saw this humpback’s tail and I knew he was diving. He was heading straight for the dory. The whales are where the caplin are, and the cod are feeding on these caplin too. So if you’re jigging for cod, you are going to have some interaction with whales. I can say emphat- ically that nothing in my life prepared me for the visceral feeling of having a whale lift the boat I’m in out of the water, to see his long white flukes under the boat, the great smooth back rise up under me, the smell of his rancid breath, hear the snort he gives as he exhales, and then the disappearance again, leaving that footprint, a smooth glassy surface like a scar on the water from where he broke through. I have done ayahuasca, a Peruvian medicine that makes you see visions and understand that all energy and life are connected— this encounter with a whale was exactly like being under the spell of ayahuasca.3. Q: I’ve read in an interview that you bought a house in Newfoundland with no electricity or running water from a nonagenarian named Nellie back in 2007. When did you recognize the metaphoric value of renovating a home as a potential story idea? How long does it generally take for a story idea to go from initial inspiration to getting put down on paper?On the contrary, I knew from my own experience with novels that dealt with this material that having a character fix up a house is very boring to read about. I was leery about how much material in the book dealt with this renovation. It’s not like watching an episode of Mike Holmes. So, whenever I could, I had other people on the page talking to Henry as he’s fixing the house. It’s his interaction with the community that’s interesting, not how he replaces a sill or rewires the fuse box.I don’t have an initial inspiration. I work from a few solitary events that I knit together. A friend told me about walking to school in winter using a frozen river as his path. One morning, through the clear ice, he saw a beaver swim under his feet. That image started the book. What does it mean? I’m still not sure. But the motif occurs throughout the book. For instance, Henry sees his friend Tender die while peering through the windshield of the jeep. The book ends with a dead beaver disappearing from the trunk of a car that carries Tender’s daughter. I had no idea this type of image would attach itself to so many scenes.4. Q: You split your time between Toronto and Conception Bay. What is it about the people and the land of Newfoundland that inspires you to return there in life and in your writing? How has it changed culturally since when you were growing up there as a boy?Norman Levine was the first real writer I ever met. He came to Newfoundland to do a reading, and I interviewed him for the local literary magazine. He knew I wanted to be a writer. He said, “St. John’s is a small place. Do you have interesting friends?” “Oh, yes,” I said. “Then you can write here.”Levine’s advice was “If you don’t have interesting friends, move.” I think the same can be said for the community you’re in. I have cultivated a number of very good friends here in Toronto. The trouble is most of them are writers. That means the material that crops up involving them belongs to them. I’m left with the experi- ences that occur around the bay in the small town we live in during the summer and, sometimes, a frozen week or two in the winter.Newfoundland has changed considerably since I was a kid. I tell my own son stories of when I was growing up, and I’m amazed at the things we did. Outdoor adventures. They sound like something from the Wild West era. Of opening up the land. Frontier stories. Having said that, a friend has just bought several acres of land at the end of a dirt road in Newfoundland and is cutting down some trees to build a house. He told me that no one, in the history of the earth, had ever cut down a tree on this field. So this kind of primary experience with the land can still happen, even as we’re filming it to upload onto YouTube for our friends to see.5. Q: What was the inspiration behind the Afghanistan section of the book? What sort of research went into writing it?It occurred to me one day that Newfoundlanders were in Afghanistan and that an army is a community of sorts—a loyal family that cooper- ates—and if I wanted to write about contemporary Newfoundland, I might want to include this group of people. I interviewed several veterans and tried to get them to describe the details of their working conditions. I’d interrupt them and say “No, stay in the jeep, tell me what the dashboard looks like. What are the sleeping conditions, how do you eat, where are the latrines.” This surface of their world, that’s what I wanted them to describe.6. Q: What authors and novels have had the most influence on your writing style?The writer that influences me doesn’t have to write like me. The writer, you sense, has captured the way his or her mind works, the crazy logic that is individual and sees the world in an independent way. If you read Jim Harrison’s food essays in Brick magazine, you get the feeling that he’s trapped how he sees the world. So has Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Charles Portis does this very well, especially in Norwood and The Dog of the South. Larry McMurtry in All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. Xavier de Maistre in Voyage Around My Room. Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage. Joan Didion in Play It As It Lays. Walker Percy in The Moviegoer. Viola Di Grado in 70% Acrylic 30% Wool. Somerset Maugham in The Razor’s Edge. All of these writers trapped a voice and stayed true to that voice through the book.7. Q: Conversely, what non-writer would you say has been the most inspirational to you and your career?I’m not a fan of the great person, or a model to hold up in life, of someone to emulate or admire. I’m far more interested in the fractions of people, how character is betrayed even when covered up in yards of cloth. The muffled truth that blurts out occasionally from all of us. I keep my ear tuned to that. To everyone involved in these slight aberrations from society’s well-worn path. Eccentrics, I guess. But you don’t have to be an eccentric, just have occasionally eccentric thoughts and do not censor yourself from that thought. Realize it’s the unvarnished truth. The eccentric is only the person who says the unconventional thought. That’s what I’m interested in pulling out of the people I pass every day. I was buying stamps at the post office this morning and started getting into a strange conversa- tion when I realized, “Boy, I need to get out more.”8. Q: What drives you back to the blank page every day? Has your approach to writing changed at all over the course of your career?It’s exciting to try to describe an action in a new way. To decide that no one is going to smile, ever again, in one of my novels. So then what else do people do with their faces while they are talking to one another? Or where are their hands as they listen? There are a lot of nods and winks in novels, far more than in real life, so I’ve discarded them. I will dilute the percentage—that’s my contribution to liter- ature. So, what is the alternative set of postures that occur while a human being is smiling? Articulating them on the page is a lot of fun. Oh, the character is smiling, the reader thinks, and the writer has not used the word smile.It is strange to go back and read an early published story. I was more philosophical in my twenties. I hung out with students of philosophy and religion. I was interested in injecting ideas into my plots. Now I’m more trusting that the details will suggest ideas. Also, on a technical level, there were a lot of physical troubles of setting that I used to have which I’ve mastered to a certain degree so I don’t have such pains describing a scene. Alistair Macleod, at Banff, once read a story of mine and said, “These two people are carrying a canoe to the lake, but I don’t know who is in the front. It’s important that the reader know the woman is in front.” That sort of basic “setting of the table” I’ve learned to do much better.9. Q: If someday you found that you were no longer able to write, what type of life would you pursue?There are a hundred things I could be doing and would find inter- esting. As long as I have people around and books to read, what I’m doing with my hands feels less important. Balance is good. One day of teaching a week. Getting my hands in the soil. Travelling a bit. Creating dinner. Making love with someone who loves you. The worse things for me would be to lose my hands or have trouble walking or discover I’m not around someone who likes to laugh. There’s an old age home at the bottom of my street here in Toronto, and there’s a man sitting at the table in there alone with a view onto Bloor Street. He looks pretty curious. His eyes are alive. You have to stay curious.

Editorial Reviews

Longlisted for Canada Reads 2016Toronto Star fiction bestseller"[Winter] is a writer who dangles the delicate bait because he knows we will take it, then sets the hook and reels us in hard. And when he has us in his boat, all we can do is stare up at him, gasping, not sure if he'll club or release us. And frankly, as readers, we don't care. We're thrilled, simply, to be along with him for the ride." - Joseph Boyden, Giller Prize-winning author of Through Black Spruce“Evocatively told with spare, poetic elegance, this is a story of the love and life which can grow from a terrible loss. Henry is a man torn between escaping a past tragedy, and embracing its implications fully within his own life. Set in rural Canada, where the reverberations of world events can both shatter lives and offer the potential for redemption, Minister Without Portfolio is an essential, modern, Canadian novel.” - Vincent Lam, Giller Prize-winning author of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and The Headmaster's Wager“Michael Winter gives us the story of a man who suffers a shock, searches for a foundation, and rescues a home. This is a book about old-fashioned love, the very unlikely, smoking hot, so lucky you came across it kind. The lasting kind of love that blazes like a forest fire. In Minister Without Portfolio Michael Winter takes a ballpeen hammer to your heart and finds the veins of gold. Every sentence is an ungrounded wire, megawatts of ebullience, wonder and sparking-spitting joy. Electric prose.” - Lisa Moore, author of February and Caught“Reading Michael’s fiction is a lot like hearing him talk about his life. Packed with odd but compelling incidents that in anyone else’s hands would feel exaggerated or fake. Harrowing, in an after-the-fact hilarious way. Full of wonder and mystery. A hangover you wouldn’t miss for the world.” - Michael Crummey, author of Galore and River Thieves“Minister Without Portfolio is a masterful examination of the very marrow of life. . . the stylistic comparisons between Winter and Hemingway (or Winter and Carver) are pretty much rote, but they’re accurate. . . Minister Without Portfolio is essential reading, an honest, and at times frank-to-the-point-of-discomfort exploration of guilt, loss, faint hope and struggle. It peels back the surface calm and reveals the roiling, cold depths beneath, the currents that threaten to pull one down, that must be fought with all our strength.” - National Post"Another tour-de-force from one of Canada’s most exciting writers" - – Zoomer"Almost Tolstoyan in its sense of weighty importance." - Toronto StarFrom the Hardcover edition.