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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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