The Wig-Maker by Janet Gallant, Sharon Thesen

The Wig-Maker

  • Poetry
  • 104 pages, 6×9 inches
  • Price: $18 CAD · $16 USD
  • ISBN: 9781554201716
  • Date published: 2021-03-11
  • Availability: in print & available


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About The Wig-Maker

'The Wig-Maker asks the reader to lean in and listen. It asks the world to fall silent in order that we may hear the intimate whispers between the lines. There are two voices in this book: one whose story goes in search of its music; the other who has to make, of the cries, the very first notes of the song. The work of repair does not deny the original wound. In fact, it cannot happen without it. A fealty to the truth creates a kind of shimmer. Impossible to miss that fitful, tremulous light in what can only be called a work of heart-breaking brilliance.'
— Eve Joseph, Griffin Prize winner

The Wig-Maker gathers and weaves together themes and incidents that accumulate toward “the moan” of racism, sexual abuse, maternal abandonment, suicide, mental illness, and addiction.

Though the subject-matter ranges from a lengthy first-person account of sufferings both personal and cultural, historic and current, the pulse of the telling ultimately led to healing and reconciliation. Almost by magic — certainly with the assistance of the uncanny — the 18-month long process of Gallant's telling/Thesen's listening-writing resulted in Gallant's discovery of her true genetic, and social, identity. In the early part of her story Janet longs to know the reasons that her mother abandoned the family when Gallant was three years old, leaving four young children with their abusive father. She also wants to know what turned her father into “the monster” he had become. Her mother, Valerie Johnson, is Black and grew up in the Black community of Wildwood, Alberta; her Canadian serviceman father, Tom McCrate, grew up in Irish-Catholic poverty in Nova Scotia. As a biracial child, Janet was unaware until she was eleven years old that her mother was Black; nor did she know until very recently that Tom McCrate was not her biological father.

The twists and turns of the narrative gather a range of topics and incidents; the human hair industry, Black immigration to Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900's, maternal abandonment, the stresses of military life, adoption search websites, the suicide of Gallant's teenage brother, the sudden death of her young husband, the stress-disorder of alopecia, and the loneliness of surviving all this but never finding answers. But some important answers have been given and received as a result of Gallant's research being inspired by the mysteriously healing process of the telling itself.

“The Wig-Maker” is Janet Gallant's song; her story comes to life in Sharon Thesen's poem.

The Wig-Maker launched live on Zoom on Thursday, May 6th. Check out the event video below.

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