Author: Sarah Leipciger
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Sarah Leipciger’s Canadian family drama is a strong literary novel with a satisfying plot that provides meaningful revelations about its central characters as well as valuable insights into Canadian wilderness and attitudes. The story centres on Tom Berry, a strong and resourceful father of two grown children. He is grappling with both the choices he has made and the unforeseen consequences of what life has presented him. The book opens with Curtis, the 20-year-old son, killing a young woman while driving on a dark, windy road. The story doesn’t return to this key plot point until more than halfway through the book. Instead, we are given Tom’s conflicted but ultimately ardent perspective on single fatherhood, and how his circumstances came to be this way. There is excellent pacing here to allow the reader to delve into this competent but flawed character through fully realised scenes. Admiring and sympathising with Tom’s character sets up the ultimate reckoning for Curtis’ crime in the latter half of the book. Much of the story narrates Tom’s travails heading a crew planting trees in the Canadian bush near Vancouver. We learn a great deal about this work in a way that both advances the plot and is appealing in its own right. The comparisons between this Canadian ‘bushman’ and a typical Australian ‘bushman’ would be engaging to Australian readers, as Tom’s familiar resourcefulness and competency are used to deal with the efficacy of hunting animals such as bears and deer, as well as handling nearly fatal falls into icy pools. Tom is pulled to the bush as much as he is pulled to protect and look after his children, and it is this central tension that produces the thematic drive to urge the reader forward: “He tried to think of nothing but the wind, and of the air filling his lungs, and of the blood keeping him warm. He ached a little, felt a little bit old. The skin on his knuckles and at the base of his fingernails had been scraped back by rocks. His fingernails were full of earth. He inspected the deep lines of his palms and the tanned, roughened, marked back of his hands, and considered how he had come to this place. Powered here under his own engine, with his own fuel. The people he had allowed to enter him. And his children. His children? Like letting his heart and his lungs go walking off without him. Couldn’t quit them, even if he wanted to. And sometimes he wanted to. More than anything. He looked out across the lake to the camp and the old mountains rolling away like a song beyond it. It’s good to be here, he thought.” Leipciger’s lyrical writing style is full of details and measured metaphors that assure readers they are in good, solid hands with this story. This is not a ‘big’ or sweeping novel depicting several generations, but tells a strong tale of family, regret and redemption.