A vivid novel explores the challenges of blue-collar Canadian life.


The Policy

A steelworker deals with unions, economic forces, and single fatherhood.

In this debut novel, Downs tells the story of Rory Gunn, a Canadian steelworker driven by the obligation he feels toward his young daughter, Anna, who is severely impaired by fetal alcohol syndrome. Her mother abandoned the family soon after the girl’s birth, leaving Rory with bitter memories (“Every time he looked into Anna’s tiny brown eyes, he chastised himself for not standing up to her mother while a vodka was poured or a beer was cracked open”). Rory’s difficulties in finding reliable child care for Anna and building a connection with a daughter who often refuses to speak are more immediate than the conflicts between labor and management at his workplace. But as the effects of the 2008 financial crisis make their way to the plant, holding onto his job—and holding his own against the smug and dismissive foreman and managers—becomes increasingly important. Rory, initially skeptical of unionization, gradually turns into an advocate and eventually serves as an officer in the union he persuades his co-workers to form. When union officials arrive for contract negotiations, Rory finds himself as disillusioned by them as by everyone else and becomes convinced that protecting Anna has to be his only goal. This bleak book is a striking rendering of working-class life, presenting a precarious existence where almost nothing is within Rory’s control except his alcohol consumption, which he keeps in close check because of Anna. While there is an uplifting aspect to the loving paternal relationship, Rory faces many trials in the novel, and readers in search of a hopeful narrative will not find it here. Downs adds a layer of highly descriptive language to the story: Rory’s local bar is “a place where the spectre of life’s many liens against true freedom wouldn’t follow”; the plant superintendent is “a bumbling fool, a poor man’s Inspector Clouseau with the attitude of a wound-up Pomeranian.” At times the vibrant prose crosses the line into overwritten (“More so than anyone he called co-worker could say without there being less than a granule of truth to it”), but on the whole Downs brings a poet’s sensibility to a tale of hardship, loss, and love.

A vivid novel explores the challenges of blue-collar Canadian life.

Pub Date: July 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8092-8

Page Count: 252

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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