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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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