Griggs, Terry 1951-

views updated

GRIGGS, Terry 1951-


Born December 20, 1951, in Little Current, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada; daughter of John Joseph (a tourist camp owner and operator) and Janet Marshall (a tourist camp owner and operator; maiden name, Scott) Griggs; married David Burr (a media specialist), November 17, 1978; children: Alexander Galen. Education: University of Western Ontario, B.A., 1977, M.A., 1979.


Home—Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, Ontario P0P 1T0, Canada. Agent—The Bukowsky Agency, 14 Prince Arthur Ave., Suite 202, Toronto, Ontario M5R 1A9, Canada. E-mail[email protected]




Short-listed, Governor General's Award, 1991, for Quickening; Silver Seal Award for best English book for middle readers eight to eleven years (joint award), Mr. Christie's Book Awards, 2001, and Red Cedar Award (British Columbia Children's Choice) nomination, 2002-03, all for Cat's Eye Corner; Rogers Fiction Prize shortlist, and Marian Engel Award, Writers' Trust of Canada, 2003, both for Rogues' Wedding.


Harrier, Brick Books (Ilderton, Ontario, Canada), 1982.

Quickening (short stories), Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

The Lusty Man (novel), Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Cat's Eye Corner (for young adults), Raincoast Books (Vancouver, Canada), 2000.

Rogues' Wedding (novel), Random House (Toronto, Canada), 2002.

The Silver Door (for young adults), Raincoast Books (Vancouver, Canada), 2004.

Contributor of short stories to The New Press Anthology: Best Canadian Short Fiction, General, 1984; The Macmillan Anthology 1, Macmillan, 1988; The Journey Prize Anthology 2, McClelland & Stewart, 1990; Street Songs 1: New Voices in Fiction, Longstreet Press, 1990; The Third Macmillan Anthology, Macmillan, 1990; and The New Story Writers, Quarry Press, 1992.


Invisible Ink, a sequel to The Silver Door.


Terry Griggs's works have received critical acclaim in Canada for their humor, imagination, structure, and language. They are also known for a certain quirkiness, since they are likely to include implausible events, to move without warning from the natural to the supernatural realm, to focus on odd or slightly disturbing everyday images, or to depict the world from unusual perspectives. Although they do not necessarily deliver a factual kind of truth, Griggs's stories have a way of getting to the heart of their subject matter. Griggs, initially calling her approach "poetic realism," refines the description of her work to "crazy" or "screwball realism." She explained these terms in an essay she wrote for the New Quarterly: "I need a narrative structure that is flexible, that can adapt to the kind of story being told, that can move like poetry, by indirection, circling, making (ideally) daredevil or unexpected leaps, landing with a concentrated force. And I want the stories to be true, embroidered truth perhaps, but not quite surrealism or magic realism, which can get awfully boring. So I'm interested in how far you can stretch the truth without losing it."

The truth that Griggs depicts is generally rooted in her experiences as a child growing up on the Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada, where her parents ran a tourist camp. Commenting in the New Quarterly that island life "has shaped my imagination, given me certain obsessions… and provides a rich source of material," Griggs concluded, "I can't foresee looking anywhere else for a story, though I may in time." But she does not consider her stories to be representative of the island and its people. "They're an idiosyncratic interpretation, island life refracted at strange angles through me."

In her first collection of short stories, Quickening, Griggs writes sixteen tales revolving around drownings, ghosts, husbands who may have been murdered by their wives, alcoholism, wife beating, and other dark and often eerie topics. Griggs blends these themes, however, with humor and lighter fare. "Her Toes," for example, written from the perspective of a baby, begins with a focus on his mother's toes: " Yow! The big ones knocked him flat every time. Sudden as eel faces poking out the dark holes at the end of her fuzzy pink slippers." During this baby's explorations, he encounters not only a wide and often disgusting variety of things to put in his mouth, but also the ghost of his dead father. The reader learns (via the thoughts of the dead man's dog) that the shooting death of the baby's father was not a hunting accident, as is publicly assumed.

Other topics and characters in Quickening have quirky aspects. In "Public Mischief," a hotel owner drinks himself to death, leaving his four hotels to his four daughters. Griggs launches a "hysterical and lyrical account," according to Eve Drobot in her Toronto Globe and Mail review, of the way that each of the hotels matches the personality traits of the daughter who inherits and then runs it. In "Man with the Axe," a dog digs up a wooden leg, which propels villagers to speculate about the leg's owner and about their own lives. Similarly, in "Visitation," when an old woman finds the body of a small devil on her floor, its smell invokes memories of her dead husband and years of abuse.

Critics maintained that Griggs's masterful handling of language adds humor and depth, as well as complexity, to her work. "Griggs is a whirling dervish with language," Drobot proclaimed. "Her ability to conjure up imagery is giddying, the inventiveness of her vocabulary can make you dizzy." The New Story Writers editor John Metcalf advised readers who were put off by the "downplaying of 'story'" in Griggs's work to "read with the care and attention one gives to poetry." Also noting the poetic nature of Griggs's work, Canadian Book Review Annual contributor Christy Conte remarked that the author's "skill is particularly dazzling in descriptions that are as original as they are musical." Several critics applauded the sheer joy—of words, notably, but also of life itself—within Griggs's work. "Everything here is words and names, all in a laughing tumble, and reality is blown up or miniaturized to envelop or map the roiling shanty towns of each story," Michael Kenyon commented in the Malahat Review. "The ride is as fun-filled as any fairground event, complete with the skilled barker's magician-evangelist spiel. Yet this is the surface, gleaming, noisy. Underneath, equal to the great love of language, is a love of people." A Quill and Quire contributor summarized: "Funny without irony or satire, poignant without pathos or melancholy, and smart without intellectual pretensions, Quickening is a whole lot of fun."

Griggs returned to an island setting for her 1995 novel The Lusty Man. The subject of the title is not a person, but an Iron-Age figurine known as a symbol of fertility. When Innis C. George begins a quest to find the Lusty Man, he ends up on an island inhabited by the very eccentric Stink family. While the Stink men are peculiar and the book's events veer towards farce, Griggs has "an affection for these characters, as well, and a suggestion that they are close to a supernatural, numinous realm," Philip Marchand remarked in the Toronto Star. For Books in Canada critic Eva Tihanyi, however, the characters were not as memorable as the author's prose, "which teems with energy and imagination." A Quill and Quire contributor recommended The Lusty Man, however, noting that it "is quite without precedent: in all its virtual fetor, this rampant comic geography is all 'Griggs's' own. It's also well worth the exploring." Commenting on the plethora of invention in the novel, the author told Marchand: "I think it's more interesting to believe things than to dismiss things. It makes things bigger."

Griggs brought her quirky style to children's fiction with her 2000 novel Cat's Eye Corner. When Olivier is invited to summer at Cat's Eye Corner, the strange mansion owned by his grandfather's third wife, he expects to have an interesting time—perhaps he will discover whether his step-step-step-grandma is really a witch. When this woman starts Olivier on a scavenger hunt, however, he discovers an adventure beyond imagining, as he is aided by many unusual creatures, including a talking fountain pen, a dragonfly, a firefighting dog, and a leafy something called a "woodwose." Critics praised the novel's joyous wordplay and compared its imaginative inventions to children's classics The Wizard of Oz and Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth (which Olivier cites as one of his favorite books). Nevertheless, "the real spirit of the book lies in Griggs' delightful twists and turns of the English language," Karin Snelson remarked in Booklist. School Library Journal contributor Laura Reed also enjoyed the wordplay but added that "Olivier is a believable character" whose literary knowledge "adds a nice twist to the story." Noting that "the plot is carefully constructed with suspense and intrigue," a Resource Links writer concluded that "this engaging fantasy is sure to be a hit with most young readers."

In Rogues' Wedding, Griggs performs her usual twist of literary expectations with a romance set in 1898. The novel opens with the honeymoon of Grif Smolders and his new bride, Avice—but it is Grif who is dreading the consummation of the marriage, and Avice who must chase him across the country when he is spooked by a freak lightning strike. "Griggs's second novel is as exuberantly inventive, verbally juiced up and sexually outrageous as her first," Mary Millar observed in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "Griggs' characters and the world they inhabit are startlingly real and wickedly inventive," according to Chatelaine contributor Anne Hines. Again, the author's skill with words earned particular praise; as Michelle Berry concluded in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "it is as if Griggs's rich language actually becomes another character in the text, guiding you in witty ways, playing with your preconceptions, easily forcing you to think about everything differently."



Griggs, Terry, Quickening, Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Metcalf, John, editor, The New Story Writers, Quarry Press, 1992.


Booklist, June 1, 2003, Karin Snelson, review of Cat's Eye Corner, p. 1761.

Books in Canada, February, 1996, Eva Tihanyi, review of The Lusty Man, p. 36.

Canadian Book Review Annual, December, 1991, Christy Conte, review of Quickening.

Chatelaine, December, 2002, Anne Hines, "Till Death Do Them Part," p. 32.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), November 23, 1991, Eve Drobot, review of Quickening; October 26, 2002, Michelle Berry, "Interview: The Elusive Terry Griggs," and Mary Millar, review of Rogues' Wedding.

Malahat Review, Issue 98, 1991, Michael Kenyon, review of Quickening.

New Quarterly, winter, 1989, article by Terry Griggs, pp. 5-9.

Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of Cat's Eye Corner, p. 62.

Quill and Quire, December, 1990, review of Quickening; October, 1995, review of The Lusty Man, p. 23; October, 2000, review of Cat's Eye Corner, p. 47.

Resource Links, February, 2001, review of Cat's Eye Corner, pp. 12-13.

School Library Journal, August, 2003, Laura Reed, review of Cat's Eye Corner, p. 159.

Toronto Star, November 16, 1991, Philip Marchand, "Two Authors with Their Eyes on the Prize," p. K15; December 4, 1995, Philip Marchand, "Author Terry Griggs Mines Manitoulin," p. C4.*