Canadian novelist Moore (Alligator, 2006) conveys a widow’s solitude in a narrative composed of fragments and anecdotes ranging across decades.
When her husband Cal died in the sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger off the Newfoundland coast in 1982, Helen O’Mara was 30. Cal left her with three young children, a fourth on the way, and over the ensuing decades Helen soldiered on with a façade of equanimity. The book begins in late 2008. These days Helen has plenty of pastimes: travel, yoga, sewing wedding dresses. She’s having long-postponed renovations done to her house, a decision that allows her to share domestic space with a carpenter she lingers near but doesn’t much interact with. She’s also embroiled to varying degrees in her adult children’s lives. But her grief for Cal is still both torment and touchstone, the source of her life’s sweetest, most enduring connection and its most lacerating solitude. Helen’s focus is intensely retrospective, and the novel relies heavily on flashbacks that extend to that awful night in 1982 and beyond. Moore enlivens her mostly plotless narrative by deploying poignant detail; Helen is a sensitive observer, especially attuned to those who, like her, seem isolated and laconic. Though her life has been hard, the mood here is oddly upbeat. Helen’s loneliness began in grief and shock, continued in tribute, grew to habit, and finally hardened into identity—it’s not without its solaces, even its sub rosa pleasures. A quarter-century later, Helen is everywhere attended by her perpetually 31-year-old husband, whose body never ages and whose memory never fades.
Subtle and perceptive, but offering little respite from a sometimes monotonous tone of lyrical earnestness.