Ursa MI­NOR

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by El­iz­a­beth Hop­kins

AFAM­ILY of four aban­dons Toronto’s hec­tic pace for a camp­ing trip on Al­go­nquin Park’s idyl­lic Bates Is­land. Ex­perts at pad­dling a ca­noe and safe camp­ing, the par­ents have in­stilled in their young chil­dren re­spect for na­ture and the po­ten­tial dan­gers of wild an­i­mals. The fam­ily knows where to set up their tent and how to avoid at­tract­ing bears with the smell of food, stor­ing it se­curely in a cooler. Surely noth­ing ter­ri­ble will hap­pen to these folks, right? Wrong. Ac­claimed Toronto writer Claire Cameron has penned an­other sus­pense­ful thriller us­ing an ar­che­typ­i­cal theme. In­stead of a sin­gle woman ac­cept­ing a ride with a pass­ing high­way stranger — the plot of 2007’s award-win­ning The Line Pain­ter — her at­mo­spheric sec­ond novel uses the clas­sic idea of chil­dren lost in the woods, po­ten­tial vic­tims of a num­ber of un­known dan­gers. A for­mer wilder­ness in­struc­tor at Al­go­nquin Park, as well as for Out­ward Bound, Cameron knows what she’s talk­ing about. This might con­trib­ute to the novel’s real­is­tic tone, or per­haps it’s be­cause the tale is based on an ac­tual bear at­tack in Al­go­nquin Park. Af­ter read­ing this well-crafted, en­gag­ing story, the main ques­tion that re­mains is whether the fa­mil­iar­ity of the whole lost-in-the­woods saga is a clever use of an archetype, or yet an­other clichéd crack at a well-used theme. And while Cameron’s skill as a writer is un­ques­tion­able, the novel’s sus­pense­ful mood de­gen­er­ates sig­nif­i­cantly in the lat­ter half of the book, leav­ing the reader, no longer car­ing about the char­ac­ters’ fates, hop­ing the thing will just get to re­solv­ing it­self one way or the other. But while the novel’s thriller tone waxes and wanes, Cameron is nev­er­the­less adept at cre­at­ing be­liev­able, com­plex char­ac­ters. The nar­ra­tor, Anna, is six; her brother, Alex (whom she nick­names “Stick” be­cause of his per­pet­u­ally sticky hands) is four. The third pro­tag­o­nist, de­spite his dearth of lines, is a black bear. Be­cause the tale is nar­rated by a six-year-old, her mother is por­trayed as stereo­typ­i­cally lov­ing, at­ten­tive and kind. The fa­ther is a bit of a con­tra­dic­tory per­son­al­ity: a fun, car­ing and a lov­ing hus­band and par­ent at times, he’s also a clas­si­cally abu­sive hus­band, as­sault­ing his wife on the other end of the “hon­ey­moon phase.” The hor­ror of one of the fa­ther’s out­bursts pro­vides the im­pe­tus for Cameron’s skil­ful ren­di­tion of what would other­wise be a tired for­est story. Their fa­ther throws Anna and Stick in the cooler, telling them not to get out. They obey him, but the reader is left won­der­ing whether it’s be­cause of their com­pli­ance as young chil­dren or be­cause they’re em­ploy­ing the sur­vival skills taught to them, iron­i­cally, by their par­ents. Anna and Stick even­tu­ally sneak away, set­ting off on what proves to be a fairly ex­cit­ing but at times un­even ad­ven­ture. Their jour­ney sees them strug­gle to stay alive and, ul­ti­mately, to try to get off the is­land to safety. And then there’s the bear. Hop­kins’ de­scrip­tions of the an­i­mal add to the pace of the novel as Anna and Stick make their way through the woods. And while he doesn’t say much, the bear clearly dic­tates the chil­dren’s trav­els. Ul­ti­mately, the ques­tion of whether she has crafted an all-too pre­dictable retelling of a Hansel and Gre­tel or Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood ad­ven­ture, or an in­ven­tive and real­is­tic take on a clichéd idea is ir­rel­e­vant. Cameron’s ap­ti­tude and cre­ativ­ity out­weigh any po­ten­tial flaws in the novel’s plot, char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment or mood. El­iz­a­beth Hop­kins is a Win­nipeg

writer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.