The Night Drummer

Paul Nicholas Mason. Now or Never Publishing (LitDistCo, North American dist.), $19.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-926942-76-6
A spate of recent coming-of-age novels depicts Canadian adolescence as notably grim, a period of scarring traumas and tribulations, but this quietly affecting third novel from Mason (whose previous work includes The Red Dress) offers a welcome change. Primarily set in the early 1970s as even-keeled narrator Peter Ellis is growing up as "a small town boy if there ever was one," the novel doesn’t skimp on tough subject matter: the steady marital decay of Ellis’s parents, sudden death, sexual assault, brutal students (one who’s "two hundred pounds of grease and malevolence"), virulent racism and homophobia, and LSD-dealing bikers, all found in one ordinary Ontario town. As Ellis sleeplessly anticipates his high school’s looming 25-year reunion, his recollections balance moments of encroaching darkness with plenty of joyous light. Ellis’s memories of first loves and jobs and an endearingly oddball assortment of friends, including Otis, a preternaturally wise and kind Ojibwe boy adopted by devout Caucasian parents, give this portrait a welcome sweetness that draws attention to the innocence, sheer possibility, and blithe lightheartedness of youth. "Small towns can be ugly places," Ellis remarks, "but they can be warm communities too." Nostalgic but not sanitized, this novel shows the interplay of the two, with captivating results. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/06/2015
Release date: 04/01/2015
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