Hardy and Dickens are the probable inspirations for this sprawling, old-fashioned tale of two maritime Newfoundland families.
Award-winning Canadian author Morrisey (Kit’s Law, 2001) sets her second novel among Atlantic “outports”—small fishing communities where generations of the Gale and Osmond families have lived and toiled—in the early years of WWII just prior to Newfoundland’s “confederation” with Canada. A shipwrecked family, the O’Maras, are rescued and housed, but its eldest son Gideon is severely injured and disfigured in a shooting accident. Job Gale volunteers for military service abroad, leaving behind his fearful wife Sare and daughters Clair and Missy. In an increasingly convoluted narrative, first told from Clair’s viewpoint, Morrissey details Job’s return from battle (a haunted shell of himself), his family’s deliverance from the protection of malevolent (Uriah Heep–like) Uncle Sim, and Clair’s career as a schoolteacher and marriage to family friend Luke Osmond. Clair’s young daughter Hannah then picks up the narrative, recounting her own girlhood, the “shame” borne by her pregnant unmarried Aunt Missy, and the chain of (awfully melodramatic) incidents that follow Job’s death, the visit of an “old vet” who had fought beside Job and knows the real source of the latter’s guilty despair, and the revealed truth about Gideon O’Mara’s “accident.” The story groans beneath the weight of Morrissey’s overplotting, but she knows her people intimately, and they’re all memorable. Their salty semiliterate dialogue is perfectly caught “He don’t give we nothing”); but Morrissey’s omniscient voice is often portentously trained (“a scorn that watered itself with rage, anguish, fear and other ills that, left alone, became too monumental to disperse within and is charted into that darker unknown self”). A climactic flurry of reconciliations likewise defies credibility.
Still, the narrative moves like a house afire, and its racy energy keeps our attention riveted.