cover image WATER WINGS


Kristen den Hartog, . . MacAdam/Cage, $23 (269pp) ISBN 978-1-931561-61-7

Set in a small town in Ontario, this delicately wrought family drama opens as Darlene Olepke, mother to Vivian and Hannah, prepares for her wedding to Reg Sinclair, the shoe store man. Vivian and Hannah's father, Mick, died in a tragic water-skiing accident many years ago, and since then Darlene has depended on a string of men for support. However, her inexplicable marriage to Reg, "a large pale man with a perm," dredges up memories and questions for Darlene's family. Darlene's two very different daughters, sharp-witted Vivian and dreamy Hannah, each narrate chapters, as do Angie, Darlene's practical sister, and Wren, Angie's deformed but sensitive daughter. Wren, sensitive to small wonders, draws parallels between human relations and the natural world—particularly the fragile and beautiful insects that inhabit the surrounding Ontario forests—that become increasingly relevant as darker truths about the town emerge. Despite the fine-grained loveliness of Hartog's prose, the novel suffers from a lack of focus, none of the characters crystallizing into distinct, memorable creations. The narrative swings freely from past to present and back again, sweeping memories of sticky summers and lost dreams in its wake. This patchwork construction, along with erratic pacing, decreases the tension and appeal of what is otherwise a beautifully rendered tale. (Feb.)