This appealing first novel, set in coastal Newfoundland and certain to be compared to E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, was published to widespread acclaim in its author’s native Canada in 1999.
The story is set in the “outport” of Fox’s Cove, near Haire’s Hollow, and focuses on the close familial relationship that binds together its fatherless narrator, adolescent Kit, her mentally retarded (and “wild”) mother Josie, and feisty Lizzy, Kit’s grandmother, who keeps the fragile family together, fending off the loudly proclaimed disapproval of most of the Pitmans’ neighbors. When Lizzy dies unexpectedly, a delegation led by haughty Mrs. Ropson, wife of the fire-breathing local minister, tries to have mother and daughter committed to an asylum and an orphanage, respectively. Kit is a heroine whom we immediately warm to (her phlegmatic housecat Pirate is an almost equally companionable character)—and Morrissey severely tests her character’s wits and survival skills as pressure mounts from “respectable” souls; minister’s son Sid befriends the Pitmans (and captures Kit’s unruly heart); a murder stuns the community; and the identity of Kit’s father—one of the many villagers who’d had their way with the impulsive Josie, his identity hitherto known only to kindly Doc Hodgins—may at last be revealed. It all sounds corny, but it isn’t—despite many unmistakable echoes of other books, including Wuthering Heights (oddly), New Zealander Keri Hulme’s Booker-winner, The Bone People, To Kill a Mockingbird, and any number of Dickens novels (the creepy rapist and killer known as Shine, in fact, bears more than a passing resemblance to Oliver Twist’s gloriously depraved Bill Sykes). No matter: Morrissey’s warmth and genuinely respectful affection for her characters, Kit’s flinty, vigorous voice, and dialogue so salty it could pit aluminum are more than compensatory virtues.
Look for a film version soon, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading the book. Kit’s Law is a charmer.