The People Who Stay
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.