Draft-dodger novel fails to ring true
Fletcher is a law school dropout and Maggie is a newly graduated teacher escaping painful childhood memories and a strict Christian upbringing.
Readers learn from a concurrent storyline that Maggie’s father is serving as a Christian missionary in Laos. He had hoped Maggie would accompany him overseas and was upset when she chose to go to Canada with Fletcher instead.
In Canada, Maggie and Fletcher plan to start a commune.
“We’ll get people from all over, people who want to escape the city, who are sick of crime, the rat race, who want their children to breathe clean air,” Fletcher tells Maggie.
Unsurprisingly, their utopian dream quickly becomes unsustainable as farm and communal life prove to be more of a challenge than the young couple expected.
The friends who promised to join them take their time showing up and then do not contribute their share of labour.
The neighbours are weird and unfriendly and the American politics that pushed them towards Canada begin to change.
Cracks soon begin to show in Mag- gie and Fletcher’s relationship and they begin to drift apart.
All these ideas could have made for a captivating work of fiction. In fact, many of them did in the 2012 novel Arcadia, written by American Lauren Groff.
In McGill’s case, however, the separate pieces fail to make a satisfying whole. Too often, the scenarios and dialogue do not ring true, making it difficult for readers to invest in either the people or the politics.
There also are far too many side stories and characters, most of which remain underused and undeveloped. By the time the supposedly suspenseful narrative about Maggie’s father in Laos collides with her narrative about communal life, readers likely will have lost patience with both.
And that is a shame. The story about American draft dodgers starting new lives in Canada is, after all, an interesting one that deserves to be told.
McGill clearly knows and appreciates this from his academic research. He just has some difficulty showing it in his fiction.