Winner of the 2010 Governor General’s Award, Warren’s U.S. debut limns two nights and a single summer day in a tiny Canadian town.
In spare, quietly lyrical prose, Warren tracks the inhabitants of several households in Juliet (population 1,011). Lee Torgeson, 26, isn’t sure he’s capable of managing the farm left to him by his adoptive parents. Willard Shoenfeld and his brother’s widow, Marian, share a home and continue to run the Desert Drive-In movie theater, but Willard is afraid Marian is planning to leave; he can’t admit to himself how much he loves her, and he’s unaware she shares those feelings. Blaine Dolson has lost most of his family’s farmland and faces bankruptcy; he’s maddened by the distracted, easygoing ways of wife Vicki, who seems to let their six children mostly run wild. Blaine is only one of the borrowers whose on-the-brink finances worry tenderhearted banker Norval Birch, who is also troubled by wife Lila’s plans for an elaborate wedding for their pregnant daughter Rachelle. Add to this mix an out-of-towner who has lost the Arabian horse she impulsively bought en route to see her formerly estranged daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met; good-natured trucker Hank Trass, who takes her cell number and promises to keep an eye out; his jealous wife, Lynn, who finds the number and is sure Hank is cheating; plus the local hairdresser, whose cousin stabbed his own mother and whose father is a drunk—it adds up to the traditional cast of quirky characters that frequently animate tales of small-town life. Warren gives it her own twist with humor as dry as the sand dunes of the Little Snake Hills that border Juliet and with gentle compassion for her characters, who have their share of troubles but are all essentially decent, caring folks.
The low-key narrative takes a while to build enough momentum to sustain reader interest, but once immersed in its leisurely rhythms, most will find this an engaging snapshot of rural life.