A St. Albert raised author has published a riveting book that is equal parts crime novel and literary fiction. Curtis LeBlanc’s Sunsetter is a raw fictional story dealing with the opioid crisis, adolescent isolation, police corruption and the shallowness of pervasive capitalism.
Although LeBlanc now lives in Vancouver, the 242-page read is a love letter to St. Albert. The action takes place in Perron, a prairie town enduring the after-effects of an oil boom. There are numerous local references sprinkled throughout the plot. The most impactful is Sunsetter Rodeo loosely based on LeBlanc’s adolescent experiences at Rainmaker.
And although the story is fiction, anyone familiar with Rainmaker will be swiftly reminded of one of St. Albert’s biggest annual celebrations.
“I wanted to write a page turner — something that was interesting and exciting, and people would find themselves immersed in,” said LeBlanc. “I hope the book gets read and people understand how close the opioid crisis is in any community. The idea of Perron is that any town in the prairies could be affected.”
As the plot starts Dallen and his buddy Brooks score a couple of hits from a carny selling drugs. In a quiet spot away from the carnival noise, they swallow a pillow followed by beer. Brooks has a shocking reaction and dies on the grounds.
In a parallel storyline, Hannah is in a relationship with Nick, a carny who passed through town the year before. He’s been on the road saving money so he can quit the carnival and hook up with Hannah upon his return. Unfortunately, Nick too is killed.
Angry, confused and grieving, Dallen and Hannah form an unlikely partnership to uncover the corruption in Perron’s underbelly. With a restless population of bored adolescents and young adults as well as detectives involved in the drug trade, the author detonates one bomb after another.
LeBlanc was personally affected by the opioid crisis when a friend died from an overdose in junior high.
“We were young enough we didn’t know much. The opioid crisis had just begun at that time. It was my first personal exposure, and the crisis continued to grow in severity and sadness. Here in B.C., decriminalizing drugs is a big step forward. We need to reduce the stigma so people feel they can reach out to addiction counsellors and reduce the harm they can engage in.”
The former St. Albert resident moved west to attend the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program in 2010. The warm climate, quality of life, a coterie of like-minded writers and a romantic interest fuelled his desire to remain in Vancouver.
During his time out west, LeBlanc earned an MFA, wrote a novel as a thesis project and published two books of poetry: Little Wild (2018) and Birding in the Glass Age of Isolation (2020). He is recognized as recipient of the Reader’s Choice Award in the Arc Poem of the Year and was shortlisted for The Walrus Poetry Prize.
His poetic writing style shines on every page of Sunsetter. And by not using quotes to differentiate dialogue from narrative, the reader understands a character’s every inner thought and emotion while simultaneously remaining a distant observer of the action.
In a respectful nod to LeBlanc’s accomplishments, he is invited to kick-off the newly created STARFest Conversations, a series of intimate Sunday afternoon author chats at the St. Albert’s Downtown Public Library.
Michelle Steinhusen, STARFest Festival Director, explained that every year the library receives more author requests to participate in the fall festival than the library can accommodate.
“Conversations is an idea so we can invite fantastic local authors. Before COVID we did much more with local authors and authors passing through. This is a way of restarting it with a fresh approach.”
Poet Laureate Lauren Seal will host LeBlanc in a discussion about his novel followed by a Q&A from attendees. Normally, copies of books will be available in the library for readers to peruse in advance of the free event.
“We hope to have the author book in the library so people can read ahead and ask the author questions,” Steinhusen said. Since Sunsetter is being released in April, LeBlanc will bring copies hot-off-the-press for a book signing.
STARFest Conversations is on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m. in the downtown public library's Forsythe Hall. Interested readers are encouraged to subscribe to a newsletter at www.starfest.ca.