The Big Why was originally published in print in Canada by House of Anansi Press and in the US by Bloomsbury.
The Big Why is both Michael Winter's dazzling reinvention of the historical novel and a passionate and witty faux memoir of Rockwell Kent, the famous illustrator of Moby Dick.
Focusing on the year Kent and his family spent in Brigus, Newfoundland on the eve of the First World War, Winter offers up the private emotions of a man whose outer ambitions betray his inner feelings. Kent vows to be faithful to his wife, to live close to the sea, and document, through paintings and woodcuts, a picturesque land and society. But he also desires everything, including the young woman who cares for their children. His friend, the explorer Bob Bartlett, explains how the artist's beliefs and way of life run drastically against those of this small seafaring community.
Funny, surprising, and thoroughly honest about our desires and contradictions, The Big Why bares all: it is about a man who was not fully understood or accepted in the time and place in which he lived. And it is about how we all try to find our place in the world, to gain wisdom, but in the end must humbly accept the transcendent fallout of our actions.
With The Big Why, the historical novel Gabriel English worked on in Michael Winter's This All Happened is complete!
Drummer General's Award
Winner (2004): The Big Why by Michael Winter
Trillium Book Award
Shortlisted (2005): The Big Why by Michael Winter
Thomas H. Raddall Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted (2005): The Big Why by Michael Winter
What The Media Have to Say About The Big Why
"...a book that contains some of the finest writing we are likely to read this season."
- Vancouver Sun
"One of this fall's most anticipated novels....a witty celebration of what makes extraordinary men who they are."
"Winter is at his best when he writes a passage -- many of which are read-again beautiful -- that has nothing overtly Newfoundlandish about its vocabulary but that could only be written by someone who has the poetry of that sad and beautiful place running through his veins."
- Globe and Mail
"Winter is an enviably skilled craftsman who is always seeking to further sharpen his prose....it is great to read the work of a writer who has given every last sentence the full weight of his intelligence."
- Saturday Night Magazine
"...it's Winter's phrasing. His prose is both sheet metalled and lyrical and soaked in truth: You can read for hours without a single false quantity."
What Other Writers Have to Say About The Big Why
Winter's writing blows my mind--it's sharp and hard and beautiful and so completely original. I love thinking about the big why of The Big Why, the profoundly simple central question at the heart of this great novel.
- Miriam Toews, bestselling author of A Complicated Kindness
"Michael Winter's The Big Why is a superb novel with grandeur of emotional dimension. This is an important book nearly to the point of cruelty wherein the struggle between an individual and his wife and the larger community remind us again of the immense value of literature."
- Jim Harrison, author of True North
Audio Book Reviews of The Big Why
From Audiofile Magazine
Michael Winter's second novel adopts a historical figure as its narrator--Rockwell Kent, the New York artist whose illustrations revived interest in MOBY-DICK in the 1920s. The story is inspired by Kent's move to Newfoundland before WWI. Listeners who know THE SHIPPING NEWS will not only notice the similarity in premise (though the styles of the two books are entirely different), but will also recognize narrator Robert Joy, who read the audio edition of Annie Proulx's novel. Joy's facility with turning on and off his Newfoundland accent and his imbuing of each character with a unique voice bring the world of the novel to life.
From the Ottawa Citizen
"Note-perfect" and "memorable" are adjectives you'll also want to use to describe the audio version of Michael Winter's The Big Why, from the little Newfoundland company that could, Rattling Books.
Winter's haunting 2004 novel, a faux-memoir of real-life American artist Rockwell Kent's brief sojourn in Brigus, Nfld., just before the First World War, is a thoughtful reflection on the nature of art and the role of artists. But, plunked down squarely into the bustle of Manhattan and then the hard beauty of coastal Newfoundland, it is also a narrative that thrums with vibrancy and provocative colour.
Another veteran Canadian actor, Robert Joy (you can catch him on CSI: New York) deftly handles Winter's words and his characters, whether world-weary New Yorker or Newfoundlander with a poet's soul and a pragmatist's impatience with nonsense. Joy was born in Montreal but lived and worked on The Rock for years, so he has the voices down exactly right.
From The Scope
So, you know Michael Winter’s Gabriel English character from The Architects Are Here, right? And you know how, in Winter’s earlier novel, This All Happened, Gabriel goes off to Heart’s Desire to write a novel about American artist Rockwell Kent? The Big Why is that novel. In Rattling Books’ unabridged audiobook version, the accomplished Robert Joy (most recently of CSI: NY fame) brings Winter’s Kent – lusty, inquiring, ambitious, misunderstood – to life. Joy navigates Winter’s at-times difficult prose style – his quotation-mark-free dialogues – with grace, moving fluidly from voice to voice. The Big Why is some of Michael Winter’s best writing and one of Rattling Books’ most beautiful releases.