"Down Sterling Road" is a novel that both underwrites and interrogates the conventions of the Künstlerroman, or novel of the artist's formation and development. Set in Southeastern Ontario during the International Year of the Child, 1979, the novel focuses on the means by which Jacob McKnight, a boy of twelve, and his father, John, attempt to resolve the grief and guilt caused by the accidental death of Jacob's twin, Cailan, and the resulting separation of Jacob's mother and father. Those means include long distance running, and, for Jacob, visual art and anatomical study. If, by the novel's conclusion, Jacob considers becoming (among other things) a visual artist, drawing is--for him-primarily a vehicle through which he revisits memories of his brother and mother. Drawing, in other words, is a means by which Jacob begins to effect healing of himself, and of his troubled father.
In contrast, the traditional Künstlerroman often depicts a Byronic artist-hero who, by virtue of his inborn genius, is divorced from normative society. He struggles, often at the expense of family and others, to realize his vocation and to enter the secular priesthood of Art. As the critical Preface to "Down Sterling Road" suggests, twentieth century fiction writers and critics have, with anachronistic exceptions, been critical of the Romantic and androcentric ideologies that underlie the traditional Künstlerroman. Nevertheless, the Preface argues, writers from Virginia Woolf to John Fowles betray a marked ambivalence about abandoning Romantic models of art and the artist.
“Down Sterling Road” shares that ambivalence, despite its author’s critically informed self-consciousness. While the novel certainly troubles tropological hallmarks of the artist-novel, it negotiates a middle passage, ultimately, between Romantic aesthetics and contemporary cultural materialism.
Bibliography: p. 478