Crises in intersecting lives mark the U.S. debut of a prize-winning Canadian writer.
With cool prose and scrupulous observation, Moore assembles a loosely linked group of characters, almost all based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in a novel which has some of the formal separations and isolations of a collection of stories. Seventeen-year-old Colleen Clark has been running wild and is now in trouble for pouring sugar into the gas tanks of bulldozers in an attempt to save the endangered pine marten. Her mother, Beverly, reminisces about her beloved, dead husband, Colleen’s stepfather. Beverly’s older sister Madeleine, a filmmaker brimming with ideas, impulses and memories of her full and committed life, is working on an all-consuming project. Frank, whose mother recently died, runs a hot-dog stand and is being threatened by Valentin, a soulful Russian thug. Other characters are absorbed in this spreading social pool as Moore’s narrative line loops back and around to fill in their multiple hinterlands. Forward progress is therefore frustratingly slow until late on, and also muddied by uncertainty as to which of these people matter. Instead, descriptive notes and insights are as carefully applied to each character and scene as in an illuminated manuscript. Frank and Colleen meet at a wet T-shirt contest and she robs him of his life savings, heading to Louisiana to find the survivor of an alligator attack that appeared as a terrifying illustration of accidental catastrophe in one of Madeleine’s documentary films. Colleen survives the alligator farm, Frank survives Valentin’s beatings and murder attempts although he is burnt and battered. And Madeleine, well . . .
Heavy with luminous detail, Moore’s fully-imagined characters and their dramas possess complexity, if not much motion.