UPSTREAM by Sharon Butala


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 From the prolific Canadian author of the novels Gates of the Sun and Luna (not reviewed), among other works, an earnest, sometimes tedious account of a young woman's exploration of family history. Mousy Chloe, a special ed teacher in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is married to Doug, a condescending grad student who's won a grant to do research in Scotland. Before going off to join him, Chloe goes on a cross-country drive and finally admits to herself what everyone else has known all along--that Doug is embroiled in an affair with a flashy fellow student who just happens to be in London that summer. When her mother is scheduled to have a breast lump biopsied, Chloe seizes the excuse to postpone her departure for Scotland. Then she agrees to accompany her father, whom she dislikes for unspecified reasons, to a cousin's wedding up in the French-speaking countryside where he's lived since splitting from her mother. Chloe has given surprisingly little thought to her mixed heritage (her father is French Catholic, her mother English Protestant). Meanwhile, she sends a letter off to Doug, asking about the presumed mistress. She also goes on a date with a flirty local poet, hangs out with various French salt-of-the-earth cousins, and even bonds a bit with her father. Armed with a French- English dictionary, Chloe peruses her grandmother's diaries and begins to understand the taboos that were broken when her parents married. Finally, the awaited letter comes from Doug, confirming Chloe's suspicions, and a serious accident cuts short the father- daughter reconciliation. We're given to believe, however, that Chloe's sunny idyll has grounded her enough so that real self- discovery may begin at last. She starts out so clueless that there's some pleasure in watching her baby-steps toward maturity, but other characters are frustratingly opaque: Various crises are merely hinted at, Chloe harbors much resentment, but her rogue relatives seem guilty of little more than occasional bad temper. Meandering, then, and only mildly engaging.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1997
ISBN: 0-00-648113-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997