WHEN SHE WAS ELECTRIC by Andrea MacPherson


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A lyrically somber, mannered debut about a family of women without fathers or husbands during the two wars. They migrate from Scotland to British Columbia, on land touching the Shulus reserve.

The mother-daughter dynamic is essential fodder to MacPherson’s elliptical tale as it hints at terrible secrets in the heart of wayward daughter (and soon mother) Min, whose life is shaped by her relationship to the Indian reservation abutting her mother’s property. Min is one of two daughters of widow Fran Petrie, who prosperously took over the working of a dairy farm in Merritt, B.C., after tracking down her absentee Scottish husband, killed subsequently in the Great War. Min’s daughter, Ana, narrates her own story years later, conjuring difficult, sometimes gossamer, mostly bitter and perplexing memories of her mother after they moved to Princeton, B.C., where Min’s husband worked in the mines and where they raised their children when not at Min’s mother’s farm: Ana, Theo and Willa—the death of the youngest by eating poison berries implicates Min in gross negligence as a mother. Ana witnesses other questionable lapses on her mother’s part when she follows her and sees her with men. MacPherson vaults over great blocks of time, switching points of view and leaving the reader to identify just where the narrator is—in the present of Min’s pubescent girlhood, grating against her watchful mother, or at Ana’s 16th year, when Willa has just died and Ana begins to be suspicious of her mother? The death of little Willa, “like a misplaced bracelet, a cast-off shoe,” is almost unbearably terrible in this character, and Min’s unrepentant nonchalance regarding her children strains credibility. MacPherson ups the ante breathlessly with atmospheric foreshadowing—about the death of Willa, the disappearance of Theo, the true identity of the Indian lover, never disclosed—until the project becomes a tiresome exercise that backfires.

Melodrama in the wilds of British Columbia: the title alone deceives.

Pub Date: May 31st, 2005
ISBN: 1-55192-596-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Polestar/Raincoast
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2005


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by Michael Jeffords