BELMULLET by Jocelyn Cobb


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A conscientious and likable chronicle of a crowded farm household in northern Ontario, whose shaky fortunes and clashing aspirations--1933-48--are seen through the allegiances and disillusionments of a young relative more or less abandoned by estranged parents. At age ten, Maudie MacFarlane comes to live--permanently, as it turns out--with Uncle Dennis, Aunt Emily, and their five children in a large stucco house on vast and untidy farm acreage. ""What seemed to me like dozens of people shouted to one another over both radio and piano,"" thinks the overwhelmed Maudie. But soon she is falling in step with the curiously ordered taboos and licenses of the family: wonderfully kind and noisy Uncle Dennis, who has no trouble with village French because he simply shouts; Aunt Emily, quite obviously the real power, whose desk is stuffed with unpaid bills and who doesn't allow mixing with the village people (""familiarity breeds contempt""); oldest cousin Kathleen, so pretty, who wields unquestioned authority in directing farm chores and plans to breed her own herd of white short horn cattle; fascinating and restless Robert; Bridget, who can sometimes be mean and tells little brother Patrick there's no Santa Claus--on Christmas Eve; and Maudie's special chum, Hatsy. There are periods of great happiness--a harvest ""all radiance and not sunshine,"" an exuberant Christmas. But there are also puzzlements. Why is the family so obviously disliked in the village? What is the secret of the taciturn handyman Russell? Why does Aunt Emily so dislike needling but jovial Uncle Rufus? And there are terrifying moments--as when a child-molesting tramp (whose body will be found long after Russell leaves) threatens Maudie and Hatsy. Eventually, then, Maudie changes from being a ""sweet child"" to a rebellious youth, observing other grim transitions: Kathleen's cold, calculating, doomed marriage; the blasted dreams of Dennis; Bridget's masochistic defection; Emily's feeble pretensions. And after illusions, an absorbing love, and a friendship die, Maudie--now a young woman--will reaffirm her connection to an old place. . . and a new, lasting love. A packed family tale, unremarkable but sharpened with intelligent portraiture.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's