A strong, spare, autumnal tale of loss and redemption, winner of the Governor General's Award, and the final work from Cohen (The Bookseller, 1996, etc.), a talented, hard-working Canadian novelist who died, at age 52, in 1999.
Set in the increasingly gentrified precincts of rural Canada, in a town where the long-established family farms are giving way to expensive housing developments, the story follows the struggles of a family displaced from the land and further damaged by tragedy. Carl McKelvey reluctantly returns to the town of West Gull after an absence of three years, torn between his desire to escape from the past and the need to deal with its considerable hold on him. He blames himself for the untimely death of his mother, Elizabeth, in an accident fueled by anger and alcohol. He also carries the weight of a failed marriage. He has come home in an attempt to make peace with his troublesome father, a lifelong farmer now confined against his will to a nursing home, and to reestablish a connection with his disaffected daughter, seven-year-old Lizzie. Because his mother, a schoolteacher, was a beloved figure in West Gull, whose benign presence affected many lives, Carl's return stirs up dormant memories and resentments, and precipitates a series of confrontations. Carl and his father blame each other for Elizabeth's death: Carl had been at the wheel, bringing his mother and his drunken father home from a party, when he had lost control of the car. Carl has had his own long struggle with alcoholism, and with a fierce temper also inherited from his father. His slow, painful battle to reconnect with life, to be a father for Lizzie, and to strike some truce with his own father are all delineated here in precise, resonant prose, imbued with a muted but powerful sense of longing. Cohen quietly presses the action toward a moving conclusion, all the more persuasive for its refusal to rely on easy victories.
An extremely satisfying work, finding new depth in old themes, and offering a fitting memorial to a talented, deeply humane writer.