Five stellar personal essays by Norman (Creative Writing/Univ. of Maryland; What Is Left the Daughter, 2010, etc.) that shed light on his melancholy, tragedy-struck fiction and larger human failures.
Norman’s novels tend to circle around a tight range of themes: gloomy Canadian backdrops, coincidence, death and a love for wildlife (particularly birds) that gives his work a quirky, musical vocabulary. These essays suggest the mood of the author isn’t very distinct from that of his fiction, and sometimes the connections are explicit: One piece is about an affair in his 20s that ended when his lover died in a plane crash, a story echoed in his 2002 novel, The Haunting of L. Norman’s fictional tensions between fathers and sons also have a real-life analogue in this book’s opening essay, about his teenage summer working in a bookmobile as his estranged father attempts to worm back into his life. The author treats these incidents with poise and intellect (references to novelists and poets abound) but also with some glints of humor. In one essay, his criminal brother keeps calling for help crossing into Canada, and their phone exchanges are both comically absurd and exasperating for the author. The best piece is the title essay, about a John Lennon cover band in the Canadian tundra and the spate of bad weather, spirit folklore and music that consumed the community after Lennon’s death. Its most harrowing is the closing piece, in which a poet housesitting at Norman’s home in 2003 killed her 2-year-old son and herself. Written evidence of the woman’s cracked psyche keeps stalking Norman in the house, and his chronicle of shaking off its effects pays tribute to the (sometimes-malicious) power of words and the wilderness’ power as a balm for heartbreak.
A bracing, no-nonsense memoir, infused with fresh takes on love, death and human nature.