SCHRANER, Margrith

Author Tags: Fiction, Literary Criticism

Born in Switzerland, Margrith Schraner came to Canada at age 22 and gained her English degree from Simon Fraser University. Her short story 'Dream Dig' which first appeared in the New Orphic Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, was selected for inclusion in The Journey Prize Anthology 13 (2001).

She has been Associate Editor of the New Orphic Review since its inception, in 1997. Her writer husband Ernest Hekkanen is the Editor-in-Chief of the review.

Margrith Schraner co-wrote Black Snow: An Imaginative Memoir (1996) with Ernest Hekkanen.

Tolstoy’s wife wrote nine versions of War and Peace for her husband; Margrith Schraner has published The Reluctant Author: The Life and Literature of Ernest Hekkanen (New Orphic 2006 $25), a lucid and surprisingly objective appraisal of her husband’s remarkable output. We learn that Hekkanen originally intended to become a playwright but realized he wasn’t a very sociable person, a quality that struck him as essential for the theatre world. “I would contend that much like Kafka,” she writes, “Hekkanen has erected his own Great Wall of Fictional Defense….” But unlike his role model, she says, Hekkanen revises his short stories and novels for each new edition. She also describes her pivotal impressions of him at the Burnaby Art Centre in 1988. Since then the Nelson-based couple has operated their own art gallery, literary periodical and publishing imprint. 1-894842-10-3

On May 17, 2013, Ernest Hekkanen and Margrith Schraner celebrated the 'Sweet 16' anniversary of New Orphic Review at the Oxygen Art Center in Nelson, B.C.

New Orphic Review:

Also see Hekkanen entry.

[BCBW 2007] "Fiction" "Literary Criticism"

Slaves or Infidels: A Review of Ernest Hekkanen’s Heretic

from Beth L. Virtanen
Heretic, by Ernest Hekkanen, came out in 2005 and was virtually ignored by the scholarly and intellectual community, largely because the sharp and perhaps perhaps disturbing illustrations he uses to share specific principles with his readership. He goads the reader into entertaining his ideas with astute examples drawn from current political follies that tend to offend the faint of heart. But Hekkanen’s book isn’t particularly about current politics or about individuals’ historic inabilities to extract their heads from the sands in which they’ve voluntarily buried them. Ernest Hekkanen’s book is about writing.

Ernest Hekkanen has completed thirty-six books to date, clearly one of the most prolific authors of our time. An outspoken social critic, he was born and grew up on the west coast and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to avoid the draft in the 1960s. In B.C., he worked as a handyman to make enough money to sustain his writing. He is currently the editor of the New Orphic Review and a full-time writer.

The title of the text, Heretic, operates, in the words that Margrith Schraner attributes to Hekkanen himself, like a handle onto which the reader can grab, like a device to port the text about (see Schraner’s forthcoming The Reluctant Author: The Life and Literature of Ernest Hekkanen, ISBN 1-894842-10-3). The handle, or device, forms the initial link between text and reader. As with much of Hekkanen’s work, the title isn’t like a label such as “Corn Flakes” on a box of cereal placed there to announce for certain the contents of the vessel. Hekkanen’s titles are meant to be unpacked more like suitcases. “CMX” on my luggage tag is not telling anyone what’s in the bag; instead it’s revealing where it and thus I am going. Unpacking the suitcase, one will discover what I need at my destination. Such is Heretic: through an unpacking of the text, the reader discovers something about writing in a serious fashion as a seasoned author would tell it. One will also learn how the seasoned author came to think thus of writing.

So what does Hekkanen think a heretic is? He opens the book with an anecdote in which he immediately sets the tone of the work. In a lecture he gave at a Canadian University, he opened the lecture by announcing that he was a heretic. Then he asked the audience what indeed was a heretic. The audience shared the common definition, which he shares: “that a heretic is someone who practices religious heresy or doesn’t believe in what is generally accepted.” According to Hekkanen, “that is what the word, ‘heretic’ has come to mean . . . [but] the word ‘heretic’ came to us from the Greek via the Latin and originally it meant ‘able to choose.’ So when heretics are burned at the stake or otherwise persecuted, the ones doing the persecuting are telling us that we don’t have the right to choose . . .” (11).

Hekkanen goes on to announce in the subsequent passage that he is also an infidel, a non-believer, one who doesn’t believe in only one tale. He doesn’t, he says, “readily lend . . . [his] credulity to other people’s stories. . . . The reader’s credulity is what you will be playing with when you tell a story” (12). Here, Hekkanen reiterates advice given to novice writers in hundreds or even thousands of classrooms across North America each day. But his reiteration of the advice is done in a voice that rasps. Clearly, it is the business of an author to convince the reader to suspend disbelief and to commit to the plausibility of the story. Were he to stop there, his book would be standard, but Ernest Hekkanen’s work is anything but standard and Hekkanen is anything but a standard writer (if indeed there is any such thing).

Instead, Hekkanen’s work asks the reader to step out of the commonplace, to think outside the box, to read against the grain. He goads the reader to reach beyond the easy narratives we’ve come to rely on in our affluent Western culture and to dig deep within ourselves to think critically and to write substantively. He challenges us to do better and to be better than we would be if we were left with only the voices of the larger narratives that are employed to placate us and allow us to voluntarily remain “slaves” to masters of the modern world.
He prefaces the text thus:

The best slave is the one who will rise early in the morning, voluntarily put on leg irons and go forth to join an army of similarly enslaved men and women who will then do the master’s bidding, without demonstrating the slightest sign of disaffection, let alone rebellion. (7)

His work, in the vein of Finnish North Americans since the onset of their immigration in the late 1800s, is critical of givens and isms, and it will not accept pat answers. Politically, he is in the class of writers such as Earl Nurmi for his insistence on introspection and on criticism of the current social order, but he lacks Nurmi’s certainty in any answers. His accuracy of detail reminds me of the poetry of Stephen Kuusisto, but Hekkanen’s narrative is blatantly more provocative in terms of its political implications and the attitude with which it is offered. His knowledge of literature, philosophy, and the isms he critiques rests clearly on careful research and deep thought.
Finally, the Finnishness of his work is as subtle as Finnishness is in the work of Judith Minty and Suzanne Matson, none of whom comment on being Finnish and all of whom enact Finnishness though the essence of Finnishness, or the ethnic Finnishness, of the characters in their works.

Ernest Hekkanen’s work isn’t going to make you happy, but it will jolt you out of your isms and the lethargy induced by the grand received narratives we have inherited. Either that, or it will make you really angry. For sure, it is not a book to be taken lightly. But if you follow his advice about writing, you will probably see improvement in your prose.

You can get a copy of the text from New Orphic Publishers, 706 Mill Street, Nelson, British Columbia, V1L 4S5, CANADA. The Canadian Telephone is (250) 354-0494 and the FAX is (250) 352-0743.The cover price is $18.00, the ISBN is 1-894842-08-1, and the book, Heretic, is well worth the cost.

-- by Beth L. Virtanen, PhD