Release date: 04/01/2002
Originally published in Canada in 1993, this moody novel may be most notable for the number of embedded clauses Huston (Mark of the Angel) strings together in her marathon-length sentences. A poignant and often tragic tale of hard times and abuse over four generations of a Canadian family from the 1890s to the 1970s, the story is told by Paula (a narrator fond of the em-dash, intermittently partial to the comma and dismissive of quotation marks). When she discovers sections of her grandfather's journal, Paula begins to write an imaginary family history, as if telling her grandfather, Paddon, about his own history. It is no loving tale. The Sterling family lived in Alberta, Canada, and were gold miners, farmers and teachers. They were also alcoholics, philanderers, domestic abusers and failed dreamers. Filled with pain and criticism, Paula's history of the Sterling family sometimes seems an exercise in despair rather than redemption, as she chronicles their difficult lives—in the goldfields of the Yukon and on the harsh Canadian plains, during the Great Depression and Canada's own Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Amid all the unhappiness and lost hopes, Paula maintains a strong connection with the deceased Paddon, but she never refers to him as her grandfather. He is, instead, the cause and the victim of so much family unhappiness (Paddon's dreams, she writes, had to wait, and "oh yes they would become virtuoso waiters, past masters at waiting, unsurpassable if not in patience at least in pathological persistence"). Though telling the story seems to be therapeutic for Paula, readers will doubt there is any authentic healing. (May)
Forecast:Huston won the Governor General's Award for Fiction in French in 1993 with this effort (she wrote it in English and translated it into French for its initial Canadian publication), but it's unlikely that American audiences will find its bleakness and its complicated syntax as compelling; expect middling sales.