SELDOM

Dawn Rae Downtown, Author . Arcade $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-55970-665-0

Although unique in its perspective and its geography, Downton's debut swirls like a snowstorm, sometimes obscuring the plot line. Less a memoir than a family history told through one of its youngest members, the book recounts the physical and emotional trauma Downton's mother, Marion, faced at the hands of an abusive father (Sidney Wiseman, Downton's grandfather) in the desolate, harsh landscape of Newfoundland. Downton begins her narrative with a sorting out of family history and character relations. This organizational style extends throughout the book, threading the story with loose, heavily detailed vignettes. Downton seems detached, never fully explaining her relationship to the family she is writing about. It is only through the accompanying map of the family tree at the beginning of the book that the relationship is revealed. And while her graceful writing exudes a sense of foreboding, perhaps to an event that will mold her story, very little is ever revealed. The memoir is shaped, rather, by Downton's memory of tales no doubt told to her by her mother, stories of the Wiseman children being left in snowstorms without help from their father, of their mother's unending kindness, and of general accounts of island living (boating, fishing, sailing away). In the end, it's only Downton's graceful prose that carries the reader. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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