The Peo­ple Who Stay

The Labradorian - - EDITORIAL - Harold Wal­ters

Sa­man­tha Ride­out’s novel The Peo­ple Who Stay [Flanker Press] sat on my “To Read” shelf for months be­fore I mus­tered up enough nerve to crack the cover.

It was the ice­berg’s fault. The one on the cover. The one that ad­versely in­flu­enced my judge­ment. I frig­gin’ hate ice­bergs. They make me cold.

Yes, I know. To quote a grand­daugh­ter: “Don’t mind Pop. He’s a grumpy old troll.”

Even­tu­ally, my re­sis­tance melted and — fold­ing back the cover so I wouldn’t have to see the big bergy — I com­menced to read.

Ah, for frig sake! By page 3 I was al­ready think­ing I’d blun­dered, that this book wasn’t for me.

Sylvia Walker (nee Pride) has re­turned to Cud­dlesville [!] and briefly re­mem­bers her grand­fa­ther’s funeral…

…and — for rea­sons any grumpy old troll would un­der­stand — I found my­self iden­ti­fy­ing with poor old, in­suf­fi­ciently lamented, Pop. Enough about grumpy troll­dom. The Peo­ple Who Stay is a story about love. There now, that’s nicer, eh b’ys? A cen­tury ago, in 1960(?) … never mind … for the first time I heard Leonard Cohen sing Suzanne, a song in which Suzanne takes folks down to the river­side, the sights to see, or what­ever. Among the river­side crowd are aching hearts “lean­ing out for love.”

The lean­ing out for love im­age has stayed with me a life­time, from cal­low youth to can­tan­ker­ous dotage. And you know what? Sylvia Walker is bloody-well lean­ing out for love.

Fear­ing she and her hus­band Tyler might be drift­ing apart, Sylvia has re­turned to Cud­dlesville hop­ing to set­tle her mind but, mostly, to be a brides­maid at a friend’s wed­ding. You’ll see how that goes. Sylvia is not feel­ing up to snuff, what­ever that means.

Lis­ten to her: “I look like some­one chil­dren would be afraid of.”

There was never a soul spawned on this planet who didn’t have a scat­tered day feel­ing less than ideal, but Sylvia some­times seems as if she is on the verge of ut­ter de­spair: “She was al­most thirty. She was sup­posed to be wait­ing to die.” For frig sake! Per­haps Sylvia has good rea­sons to be down in the mouth, what­ever that means. It’s as bad as, or worse than, not be­ing up to snuff, I s’pose.

Her mar­riage is wob­bly. Her ma­ter­nal in­stincts have not been sat­is­fied. She feels old age is rapidly ap­proach­ing. B’ys, old (!) b’ys, she’s twenty-eight. Some of you know I have a habit of draw­ing the iconic Happy Face in mar­gins when I’m amused. In some books Happy Faces flow off mar­gins like bub­bles from a Dol­larama bub­ble wand.

An odd adap­ta­tion be­gan ap­pear­ing on the Happy Faces I doo­dled in this book’s mar­gins. Un­con­sciously, I be­gan giv­ing ol’ Baldy Happy Face a top­knot.

Prob’ly a sub­lim­i­nal ef­fort to re­claim my gone, golden locks in the face of Sylvia’s dread of pre­ma­turely ag­ing. Or some­thing. Oh yes, I drew hordes of Happy Faces in The Peo­ple Who Stay. Some as bald as cue balls. Some as hir­sute as Sam­son the Hip­pie.

Sure, Mary’s (the friend) wed­ding is a ver­i­ta­ble Gong Show.

For in­stance, a burst of Hairy Hap­pys ex­plode from the page de­scrib­ing what hap­pens when Mary’s wed­ding cake is er­ro­neously de­liv­ered to the wrong place and Puss, pur­sued by Buddy the dog, bar­rels into the room.

And an­other poof of Faces when the cause of Mary’s home catch­ing fire is re­vealed.

And a flowse-o splash of Faces when Sylvia ends in the briny. Turn the page to my favourite se­ri­ous im­age. Tyler, lean­ing out for love, re­spond­ing to mat­ri­mo­nial shak­i­ness, dreams of be­ing adrift in a punt with­out oars, the tide tak­ing him far­ther and far­ther from shore: “There was ocean as far as he could see. He didn’t know how to get home.”

After Chap­ter 38 I paused for re­flec­tion, so to speak. I re­al­ized I hadn’t thought about the ice­berg since I’d bent back the cover. Ac­tu­ally, I was think­ing about Ann Tyler.

More specif­i­cally, I was think­ing that Sa­man­tha Ride­out’s novel re­minded me of early Ann Tyler nov­els — the Tin Can Tree and If Morn­ing Ever Comes.

I’ve been an Ann Tyler fan ever since the Devil was an oakum picker — what­ever that means. It was so long ago, that my ma­cho bud­dies mocked me for read­ing girls’ books.

I’d re­spond, “The girls think I’m sen­si­tive,” and I’d spit like a squid or per­form some equally manly feat. What? To some de­gree, Sa­man­tha Ride­out matches Ann’s stride even when Sylvia wears in­ap­pro­pri­ate heels to Cud­dleville’s post of­fice.

Thank you for read­ing.

The Peo­ple Who Stay by Sa­man­tha Ride­out.

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