Hello readers and writers! I’m going to use this book blog to reprint reviews (and later, some commentary) from my podcast WORDS TO GO (Words To Go Podcast). I’ll also use it to update you on upcoming readings and public appearances — my own, in particular. As a rule, the podcast concentrates on up-and-coming writers and their work, but I don’t shy away from reviewing a well-known book that in my opinion deserves the praise it gets.
Today I’d like to tell you about an exquisite find — the novel February by Lisa Moore. It tells the story of a woman, Helen, who lost her husband Cal in the Ocean Ranger disaster off the coast of Newfoundland. (For those of you outside of Canada, the Ocean Ranger was an oil rig which capsized in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic on Valentine’s Day, 1982. All 84 men on board perished). While it tackles a relevant subject, the novel’s real purpose is to document the state of mind of a woman who has to cope with this loss. The book’s structured as a series of segments, most of them told from Helen’s point of view, shifting back and forth in time from the present to past events, both before and after the Ocean Ranger tragedy. What’s wonderful about this structure is that it replicates the to-and-fro of memory, as Helen’s thoughts amble about in no particular order — juxtaposing memories that are funny, poignant, sexy; stray thoughts that bump into each other and meander off in every direction. And yet the story never loses its sense of cohesion, never lets us forget Helen, a sturdy, hard-working woman who uses her attachment to her son and three daughters to keep herself from falling apart. The precise accumulation of simple, ordinary detail drive this story foward with the force of life. Lisa Moore puts us inside Helen’s consciousness, so that we experience her deep roots in home and community and necessary work. It’s a way of writing and conceiving of truth that goes beyond empathy and right into the skin. Yet Helen’s no saint. Now and again she cuffs her kids and cusses them out. She has to cope with a pregnant teenage daughter and an unruly son who acts out after the loss of his father. Years later, as a grown man, her son John leaves a woman pregnant, and the novel’s subplot shows him struggling to come to terms with fatherhood.
Time passes, and like that blade of grass in cracked cement, life finds its way and allows Helen’s wounds to heal without a hint of sentimentality. It all rings true and the pages turn. February often reminded me of Lydia Davis’ moving story “How Shall I Mourn Them?” which consists of a bereaved speaker who raises a series of questions, beginning with “Shall I keep a tidy house…?” Each question draws us into the simple practices of being alive, suggesting to us that when we mourn, we do it best by allowing life itself to heal the wound. The novel February is like that. It holds you in its grip the way life does. This is a must-read. (Published in paperback by House of Anansi Press).