Quednau's first novel begins with a bang. One evening, on a lonely road in the Canadian countryside, teen-aged Else watches her father kill her mother and then turn the gun around to shoot himself. Before this, they had been a family who "had everything anyone could want"—a sailboat, a big old house, a large black dog. They were a storybook family—as long as you read only every other page of the story. Because the pages in between told a very different tale. Else's father, a German immigrant, was embittered about his career as an architect, jealous and abusive with his wife, a man of dark and dangerous moods. These are the pages that Else turns her attention to, 15 years after her parents have died. As she tries to get on with her own adult life and understand her feelings about the man—an architect—who wants to marry her, Else pays visits to the doctors who treated her father, the family minister, old friends. She forces herself to remember all the painful chapters, including the lies she has told to protect herself, until she's able to reach a shaky truce with her past. Quednau, who won a Canadian prize for this novel, has an extraordinary way with words. In the first chapter, where Else narrates, the writing almost shimmers off the pages. But something is lost in the succeeding chapters with the shift to third person. Else's world becomes more remote even as she's getting more bogged down in its details, and her quest for information about the past means that her story never has much forward momentum. Finally, when Else finds reconciliation with her lover in a too-neat scene, what began with a bang ends with a simper.
Read full book review >