cover image Reproduction


Ian Williams. Europa, $18 trade paper (576p) ISBN 978-1-60945-575-0

Williams’s inventive, Giller-winning debut novel (after the collection Not Anyone’s Anything) explores the roots of Canada’s home care program for migrants. In the late 1970s, Felicia Shaw, 19, and her mother live in Brampton, Ontario, having recently arrived from a “small unrecognized island” in the West Indies. Her mother suffers from a heart condition and winds up in a hospital in Toronto. Felicia forms an unlikely bond with middle-aged Edgar Gross, whose mother shares her mother’s hospital room. After Felicia’s mother dies, Edgar persuades her to move in with him, and their uneasy relationship is further complicated after Edgar gets Felicia pregnant and kicks her out of the house. Williams jumps through the years in short, indelible bursts of dialogue between Felicia and her son, Armistice (“Army”), and in chapters titled “XX” or “XY” after the sex chromosomes. At 14, Army develops a crush on his landlord’s teenaged daughter, Heather. After Heather becomes pregnant, she confides to Army that she was raped, while Felicia compares Heather’s plight to her own experience of teen pregnancy and hopes Army will break from the cycle. While the dizzying shuffle of voices and complicated structure occasionally overtax the reader, Williams’s unsparing view on the past’s repetition is heartrending. This ambitious experiment yields worthwhile results. (Apr.)