This is the third in a trilogy which began with Sylvanus Now and was followed by What They Wanted. Readers who are familiar with the Now family will want to read this third installment, but the book can certainly be read as a standalone.
This book focuses on Kyle Now who is still mourning the death of his brother Chris who died working on an Alberta oil rig. The family is a troubled one. Sylvanus, the father, takes refuge in alcohol; Abbie, the mother, is facing breast cancer; and Kyle’s relationship with his sister Sylvie is strained because of what he sees as her role in Chris’ death. Then a local bully, Clar Gillard, is murdered and suspicion falls on the Now family with whom he has had confrontations.
Characterization is amazing. All characters are fully developed, round characters, their traits consistent with those in the first two books of the trilogy. Kyle is a dynamic character. At the beginning he sees nothing positive in the world: “Felt like the one long day for three years now. The one long dull day, caught on a cloud of grief hovering over his house.” He has no hope: “Nope. Kyle Now was done with wishing.” He does not talk and share his grief with others but worries about everyone else, his constant fingernail-chewing and foot-jiggling clearly indicating his tension. His typical response is to run: “he’d pushed [Sylvie] away and ran and was still running. Running from everything.” The novel shows how Kyle goes from such desperation to finally running towards someone and seeing the beauty around him: “The moan’s broadening smile rose above the hills and glimmered amongst stars that were mostly dead and yet whose lights still shone through the eternal sky.”
Kyle’s foil is his mother. Addie, despite all her troubles, always remains hopeful. Chris is “struck once more by her fortitude. That whatever this new thing thickening her cloud of sorrow, hope was already ignited in her heart and offering itself as a shelter for him and his father.” The contrast is obvious when Kyle is described: “But he was done with hope. It took her babies and Chris and he had no more courage for hope. Hope had failed her too many times. Rather that she had never hoped. Rather that it was just those babies she grieved and not the pain of lost hope as well.” Kyle needs to learn what Addie has, that “hope eventually creeps through darkness, making inroads through to an easier tomorrow” and that “’There’s good to be found in everything, even grief.’”
There are, of course, other lessons that Kyle must learn: “’Some people have illness, everybody has something. It’s how you carries it – that’s what you take into the other world with you. That’s the only thing we takes’” and “’You can’t go getting down and blaming yourself for stuff you got no control over’” and “’You needs to be like everyone else, tending to your own concerns.’” I love the references to Job: “’We’re blessed like Job then, when we feels the fear of something and does it anyway’” and “’we’re sainted like Job when we can stand the pain and thrive in the end.’” A person may be given advice but does not necessarily listen, and part of the interest of the novel is in seeing if/how Kyle will learn these lessons.
As suggested, a major theme is that of hope. It is introduced in the epigraph, a quotation from George Eliot’s Adam Bede: “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and to have recovered hope.” Repetition is used to emphasize the need for hope: “’And you can’t lose hope, either. You got to trust some things’” and “’Hope’s a powerful thing. It’s what takes us into the next world, hopes of a better life’” and “’There’s always hope’” and “Hope’s contagious like that: if one believes, then another might.”
It is not just characterization and theme development that are amazing. There is such pleasure in reading Morrissey’s style. The dialogue is truly that of a Newfoundland outport. The images are also wonderful. An abstract like guilt is made concrete: “Guilt rotting him like an old shack built on wet ground, leaving no shores strong enough to shelter himself or his family.” And descriptions of setting say so much: “Sulphuric smells rose from a smoking pulp mill that headed the harbour while nice shingled homes and shops and oak trees encircled the mill’s land side as ribs might encircle the life-giving heart.”
I strongly recommend this book; it is literary fiction at its best. If you haven’t read Sylvanus Now and What They Wanted, read them first, but if you have been fortunate enough to meet the Now family, reunite with them by reading The Fortunate Brother. You will not be disappointed.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.