Toronto-based Richards (Mercy Among the Children, 2001, etc.), winner of multiple Canadian literary awards, strains both credibility and the reader’s ability to keep a straight face with this pullulating melodrama, published in Canada in 1998.
In an unnamed New Brunswick bayside town, pretty young Karrie Smith’s betrothal to farmer Tommie Donnerel is put on hold when Karrie becomes attracted to glowering Michael Skid, the ne’er-do-well son of a prominent judge. Michael, meanwhile, is smitten with gorgeous slut Madonna Braussard, who, with her Cro-Magnon brother Silver, earns an unpretty penny dealing “bad drugs”—which trade attracts the interest of satanic ex-convict Everette Hutch (“the swirling center, the black hole . . . [which] Madonna and Silver and Michael . . . were being sucked into”). A violent murder rattles the community, and the wrong man is convicted and imprisoned. A sneaky plot twist endangers the gas-station scam practiced by Karrie’s troglodyte parents. Everette crashes his motorcycle, and gives the reader a brief rest by lapsing into a coma. The plot thickens like month-old oatmeal, chickens come home to roost, the guilty are punished, justice delayed is not denied, and the innocent get married and talk it all over 20 years later. These beguiling absurdities are recounted in a burly, barely serviceable prose in which subjects and predicates often remain as far apart as feuding relatives estranged for decades (e.g., this side-winding sentence: “Is that how your new friends who we never see, and who never come to the house, and who all look like refugees, just like you, taught you how to be?”).
A stultifying amalgam of Peyton Place, The Beans of Egypt, Maine, The Return of the Native, and Tobacco Road. O Canada! O Mores!