A multigenerational Canadian bestseller in which distinctive characters respond gallantly to love, death, and life's unexpected assaults on family happiness.
Set in a small Ontario town on the shores of Lake Huron, the story begins slowly as it introduces the town and the Chambers family. The year is 1949, and Bill Chambers, a navy veteran who lost three fingers from his right hand in battle, is happily working again at the local hardware store. His wife Sylvia, a lively and wise woman, is a homemaker; their children, Patrick, Daphne, and Paul, are still in school. In the summer of 1952, 15-year-old Patrick's friend Murray McFarlane, the only son of wealthy but elderly parents, decides to produce a circus. But on opening night, Daphne, 12, who was to be the acrobat, falls mid-performance and badly breaks her jaw. Shortly after the accident, Sylvia becomes terminally ill. The family is strong and loving, but her death will continue to affect them in the years ahead. Even Murray, who loves Daphne and spends most of his time with the Chambers brood, will recall Sylvia's perceptive advice to him. Bill soon remarries, and his new bride, 40-ish Margaret—a beautifully rendered character: perceptive, generous, and sensitive—holds the family together in the years ahead. Prize-winning newcomer Burnard, who has published two story collections in Canada, occasionally renders the the passage of time too abruptly by using significant events as markers: the birth of Margaret and Bill's daughter Sarah; Paul's unexpected death; unmarried Daphne's two pregnancies; as well as weddings and divorces. But she deftly traces the impact of all these joyful and sad occurrences on the whole family. Margaret's ordeal in the 1990s, as she copes with Bill's dementia, is especially moving.
One of those quietly resonant novels that memorably portray a family and a place as time presses on.