How Jack Lost Time
How Jack Lost Time
A grizzled, pipe-smoking loner, Jack is a man who spends his life on the open water. He rarely leaves his boat, travelling across the water studying the horizon and tending his on-board vegetable garden. When he is not doing one of those things, he is reading.
Jack read about everything
that there were twelve kinds of foxes
in the world
and not one more.
Once, he’d even told
the night air
that his favorite was
the arctic fox.
For some reason.
The odd time Jack does take to shore, he is the butt of jokes: about the fact that he grows plants on a boat and especially about his obsession with a gray whale that he has spent years trying to find. He is so alienated from others that, even when days of rain wash out the gardens of those who live on the land, he refuses to share what he has because he feels he need to hang on to his supplies to be able to continue his quest.
It transpires that Jack is searching not just for a whale “with a scarred dorsal fin”, but for his son who has been lost at sea. The boy Julos used to go everywhere with his father, especially on his expeditions on the boat. One day a tragedy occurred.
It happened at dawn.
was still shrouded
when he opened his eyes
that Julos had
Impossible, Jack thought.
People do not disappear like that –
and certainly not
on a boat.
But Julos is gone, swallowed by the gray whale that has become the elusive goal of Jack’s years-long search. Not only has he lost his son, but he has left his lovely wife on shore to mourn both of them.
This endless time spent looking at last pays off.
and of course winters
the gray whale with the scarred
So much hate and rancor
for just one
It would have broken anyone else.
Jack has tracked down the whale. He dives into the water and is taken into the animal’s gigantic mouth just as his son had been. Miraculously, Julos is there inside the whale, dirty and sad but still alive. The boy does not recognize his father because of all the grief and pain that has marked him in the time they have been apart.
The story contains many elements of a folk tale, but it is certainly missing the happily-ever-after ending. Julos finds his father so unfamiliar to him, so worn down by his obsession, that he does not wish them to stay together. His mother, Jack’s wife, weary of waiting on shore for her lost family has gone on her own journey. Jack is told:
The poor woman
with the broken
went out on the
to find you,
to never set foot on land again
by her side.
Her whereabouts is unknown.
The last image is of Jack on the deck of his boat, clutching two sweaters, one of his wife’s, one belonging to the young boy Julos, head down, an expression of grief on his face.
The book, originally published in French in 2018 as Jack et le Temps Perdu is Quebecois author Lapointe’s second Governor General’s Literary Award-winner (also Grandfather and the Moon.
Here, her text, with its somewhat plodding meter and its lack of inflection, underscores the emptiness of the ocean and, ultimately, of Jack’s life.
Côté-Lacroix has provided monochromatic illustrations with little detail that strongly support the mood of the story. The skies are unrelentingly grey, the expanses of water are empty, the expressions and postures of the human figures are unremittingly sad.
How Jack Lost Time is probably most suitable for readers older than the usual picture book audience. It asks to be pondered and digested by a more sophisticated mind.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.