Mary Lawson's second novel is set in a small Canadian town and spans three generations, beginning in the 1930's. It is one of those stories that transcends time, that can be written about in a variety of historical contexts, including our own. As you flip through pages, as you are introduced to the characters, as the plot thickens, you find yourself nodding, understanding, a flair of recognition ignites in your mind.
Indeed, as I was reading this novel, I thought often of John Steinback's East of Eden. As in that brilliant novel, Mary Lawson finds inspiration in that familiar and ancient tale, the rivalry of those infamous siblings, Cain and Abel. In her novel, Lawson brings to life her own pair of brothers, Arthur and Jake, and these boys navigate through their childhoods, through their jealousies, under the guidance of Lawson's clear narrative voice.
And it is Lawson's voice that moves the reader so seamlessly through her novel. She pays attention to the small, simple details that grow in abundance in remote, provincial towns. Her paragraphs are not weighed down by needless banter or explanation. Instead, her quiet voice shines a dim light on certain scenes and characters, a light that illuminates but does not blind.
The tale of the two boys is told through the perspective of Arthur, a character who in his daily life is reticent and stoic. Lawson gives voice to this man without words, which made me feel as if I was privy to a whole new world of perspective. The story alternates between Arthur's perspective of his childhood and the observant voice of Ian Christoperson, a high school student who works on Arthur's farm in the 1950's. Ian serves as a perceptive observer of the adult Arthur and his marriage.
But Ian serves more purpose than just being a discerning eye. This character offers the novel an added layer of richness, as Lawson moves Ian through an adolescence ripe with family tragedy and confusion. Ian, abandoned by his mother, struggles with the loss of that most primal relationship, and the reader is exposed to another shade of betrayal, another example of the duplicity that can exist in familial pairs.
All the while, Mary Lawson transports us to quiet lakes where perch swim and the afternoon sun stretches. She takes us through fallow fields and up into abandoned barns. We walk with her through the homes of common people, of people tied to the town they were born in and their parents before that. Ian's father is a doctor, and Lawson does an excellent job in offering historical perspective on what life as a remote practitioner in Canada was like. Clearly well-researched, Lawson breathes life into her characters and to this town. I imagine, that like me, you will not want to leave when the last page ends.