Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Appreciating the west

What a refreshing 250 page book! (laugh at self inserted here after the longer reads I have recently tackled).  There are so many reasons why I love to read - to learn something, to be moved, for escape, to grow,to laugh out loud, to name a few.  This was a powerful novel, especially considering that it is a first novel (although that begs the question, after you get this kind of praise and make it as the first book on a certain powerful woman's book club relaunch, where do you go from here?).  I really enjoyed the narrative - it was a different way to tell a story.  This novel is about Hattie Shepard, and each chapter is crafted from the perspective of one of her children or grandchild.  Over her lifetime, there are sweeping personal events that are related against the backdrop of history. 

After reading the section about the Jim Crow laws of the land, it made me appreciate we are not from the South, and that is not truly part of the fabric of the Canadian west.  Especially living in a multicultural city, working in a large institution that welcomes diversity, these attitudes seem so far away.  I recognize this is an idealistic comment and that there is racism here, and that different cultures rub up against each other and not always in positive ways, however I am glad that this isn't such a part of our history to escape or grow from, since parts of it are still alive and well in the south (we have our own issues to tackle such as the East Side or engaging our Aboriginal populations in a more positive manner since they are a growing part of our Canadian population). 

I have a somewhat weird comment to make about this book - I don't always read the jacket covers, but this one describes Hattie as "She vows to prepare [her children] for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not live them, a world that will not be kind.  Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation."  I can't really say that this describes the book - or perhaps my definition of courage is one that needs to grow when I reflect upon the contents of this book and what courage means to me.  We don't truly see a lot of Hattie beyond the first chapter (which shapes the course of her life with a preventable tragedy) and the final chapter (when Hattie seizes a moment to demonstrate love and kindness for one of her brood to perhaps change her life path in a way she never reached out to her direct children) and perhaps this is the point.  We see hints of the strong, dynamic, ferocious woman that is Hattie, fighting to keep her kids alive and fighting to keep her family together, but we don't always get insight in to her she truly is.  There are glimpses, such as in the chapter about her daughter Ruthie, but it can be like quicksilver.  This is a great book, and like a few of the books I have  been recently reading, I expect this to become a part of our modern canon. 

How the threads of the novel wrap together is beautifully crafted.  This isn't always an easy read to digest, this is telling a series of stories you don't often get a glimpse in to.  Like any good novel, there are transcending moments that connect humanity to each other, those gems within the story that make you stop and think and reflect upon what the words mean to you, in your drama as it plays across your stage. 

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