Un­likely pair come to­gether in lyri­cal story of out­casts

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Har­riet Zaid­man

AU­THOR Den­ni­son Smith uses her skills honed as a poet, play­wright, nov­el­ist and ac­tor to evoke vivid im­ages of the forces of his­tory that buf­fet The Eye of the Day’s two main char­ac­ters, push­ing them con­ti­nents apart and bring­ing them to­gether again. Now a Cana­dian, Smith, who grew up in Vermont, cur­rently di­vides her time be­tween an is­land in Bri­tish Columbia and Nor­wich, Eng­land,la where she’s pur­su­ingp a PhD in English. The Eye of the Day, her sec­ond novel,n comes out Tues­day.T A sin­gu­lar mo­ment in ru­ral Vermont in the early 1930s ce­ments a bond be­tween the two un­likely char­ac­ters;a that event, ana ex­plo­sion, leaves Amos, a lo­cal handy­man, badly dis­fig­ured. Towns­peo­ple re­ject him, treat­ing him as a Quasi­modo-type fig­ure. He even­tu­ally finds oc­ca­sional work with a fam­ily of wealthy cot­tage own­ers that comes up from Prince­ton to spend lan­guid sum­mers on the nearby lake. Soli­tary, Amos strikes up a friend­ship with the fam­ily’s young son, Aubrey. Also a loner, Aubrey uses his cam­era as a bar­rier be­tween him­self and the dif­fi­cult world. He shoots photographs to avoid deal­ing with re­al­ity. Over time, Aubrey loses ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing he loves — his ail­ing mother, his beloved sum­mer re­treat, and Amos, who es­capes the town and a trou­bled per­sonal life. Aubrey spends his life search­ing for sta­bil­ity amidst a world in tur­moil lead­ing up to, dur­ing, and af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Smith uses lyri­cal phrases to cap­ture the char­ac­ters and am­plify the con­tra­dic­tions in the their lives. Amos con­trib­utes his phys­i­cal strength to con­struct a world he doesn’t fit into: “He’d brought down forests to raise them up­right as elec­tric­ity poles lin­ing the streets of cities he’d never seen.” Aubrey raises his cam­era “to freeze the mo­ment. He and his sub­ject were just as they were, there was no more to be said about ei­ther.” Ex­cept Aubrey is guilt-rid­den for pre­tend­ing he doesn’t know what hap­pens af­ter one fate­ful shut­ter click. The de­ci­sions he makes as a re­sult change the course of his life. Aubrey’s jour­ney is a sweep­ing tour of his­tory. He wit­nesses in­jus­tices done to abo­rig­i­nals try­ing hard to main­tain their ex­is­tence on the land, but who are cru­elly swept aside by the bur­geon­ing oil in­dus­try in Al­berta in the 1940s. He is a by­s­tander to ex­ec­u­tives from Stan­dard Oil and other Amer­i­can com­pa­nies con­niv­ing to fi­nance and build Hitler’s war ma­chine. “Be­ing you, not them, that’s hap­pi­ness,” mag­nate Irénée du Pont pro­claims, jus­ti­fy­ing the goal to en­rich him­self and his ilk. Aubrey’s aunt rep­re­sents the anti-fas­cist so­cial con­science, but she is a woman and a drunk, her opin­ions a dismissive joke. Smith says many of the scenes she in­cor­po­rated into The Eye of the Day came from sto­ries her fa­ther told her when she was a child in­clud­ing, in­ter­est­ingly, spy­ing on leg­endary Swedish film ac­tress Greta Garbo swim­ming naked in a chilly moun­tain lake. Smith sees na­ture as a char­ac­ter it­self, and her po­etic style in­fuses the nar­ra­tive with a mag­i­cal tone. Her unique de­scrip­tions of na­ture — “the fierce cre­ativ­ity of the skies,” “cat­tails with long, mu­si­cal leaves” — are a re­sult of ex­pe­ri­ences she had liv­ing on a Navajo reser­va­tion af­ter she left home, a spe­cial time she claims changed her world view for­ever. In The Eye of the Day, she demon­strates the tal­ent to ex­plore all cor­ners of hu­man and nat­u­ral ex­is­tence from the per­spec­tive of the heart. She con­vinc­ingly shows that the needs of the heart are what mat­ters most — no mat­ter what world-shat­ter­ing event a per­son ex­pe­ri­ences or how far that per­son has trav­elled from home. Har­riet Zaid­man is a teacher-li­brar­ian

in Winnipeg.

The Eye of the Day

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