Tough sled­ding

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Sharon Chisvin

CANA­DIAN au­thor Mary Law­son may live in Eng­land, but it is her home of north­ern On­tario that truly in­spires her craft. Law­son is the au­thor of the highly praised de­but novel its fol­low-up,

and now Clearly, this new­est fic­tion does not match the power and el­e­gance of Law­son’s first, or even sec­ond, novel, but that does not mean it is un­de­serv­ing of at­ten­tion. In­ter­mit­tently te­dious and frus­trat­ing, Road Ends still of­fers a rea­son­ably com­pelling de­pic­tion of a par­tic­u­lar place and time and of a par­tic­u­lar and pe­cu­liar fam­ily. In this case, the time is the late 1960s and the place, again, is the fic­tional small On­tario town of Struan. The fam­ily in ques­tion is the eight chil­dren and two par­ents that make up the Cartwrights. Struan is de­fined by harsh win­ters and the har­di­ness of its cit­i­zens. Th­ese cit­i­zens are for the most part sim­ple folk, strug­gling with day-to-day sur­vival, and an­chored to their way of life by ig­no­rance and iso­la­tion, credit lines and fam­ily obli­ga­tions. Like Crow Lake’s Luke Mor­ri­son — who makes an ap­pear­ance in this novel — Tom and Meg, the old­est of the Cartwright chil­dren, are par­tic­u­larly bound by this sense of fam­ily obli­ga­tion. Both their par­ents have proved in­ept at par­ent­hood, leav­ing the two sib­lings to care for the younger chil­dren. While lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion is given for their mother’s dis­trac­tion, their fa­ther Ed­ward’s back story makes up one of the main en­try points into the nar­ra­tive. It turns out he is so lost in re­gret and so fear­ful of be­com­ing like his own abu­sive fa­ther, he feels he has no choice but to emo­tion­ally de­tach him­self from his chil­dren’s lives. The nar­ra­tive’s two other, much more cap­ti­vat­ing, per­spec­tives stem from Tom and Meg. Tom is an aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer, but be­set by grief and guilt since his best friend’s sui­cide, has re­turned to Struan to be­come the town’s snow-plow driver. “His goal was to con­struct each day like the hull of a ship, ev­ery ac­tion a plank fit­ting ex­actly up to the next, no gaps or holes where thoughts might seep in.” Meg, the only daugh­ter in the fam­ily, is also stuck in Struan, mak­ing meals, do­ing laun­dry and dis­ci­plin­ing her sib­lings, but man­ages to es­cape. Al­though she has never even been as far as Toronto, she lands in Lon­don, Eng­land. There she is af­fronted by moder­nity and views and vices she didn’t even know ex­isted, but af­ter a stum­bling start, man­ages to find her way. She set­tles into an apart­ment and a job she loves, only to be called home at a time of need. Meg knows she has never been ap­pre­ci­ated at home, but that doesn’t keep her from re­turn­ing. Ul­ti­mately, it is this tug of fam­ily, mad­den­ing and mov­ing so gen­uinely imag­ined by Law­son that gives this novel its heart.

Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.

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