Refuge

Mer­i­lyn Si­monds

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction -

ECW Press (SEPTEM­BER) Soft­cover $16 (320pp) 978-1-77041-418-1

Is Mer­i­lyn Si­monds’s Refuge a fic­tional mem­oir, a his­tor­i­cal novel, or an ex­plo­ration of the causes and re­sults of seek­ing refuge? It’s all three, as it turns out, and a mys­tery be­sides.

Ques­tions hover over ninety-six-year-old Cass Maccal­lum like moths swarm­ing a soli­tary light. A frag­ile young stranger seeks ac­cess to her is­land refuge; she must de­cide whether or not to al­low her cu­rios­ity to over­whelm her dis­trust. Some­thing in Cass’s past fu­els her sus­pi­cion and intolerance of lies, con­demn­ing her to keen aware­ness of those bet­ter left uniden­ti­fied. Meted out in por­tions barely suf­fi­cient to whet the ap­petite, each move­ment on her part spawns an un­quench­able hunger for more.

Cass’s story al­ter­nates be­tween her present and past with­out in­ter­rupt­ing the book’s flow or sense of im­me­di­acy. Metaphors re­veal as much about Cass’s pas­sions and life ex­pe­ri­ences as they do about their sub­jects. She watches a man’s fin­gers skim across the strings of a gui­tar “like swal­lows across the lake;” the com­par­i­son hear­kens back to her child­hood de­vo­tion to ob­serv­ing na­ture on and around a back­woods Cana­dian lake. De­scrip­tions of how Novem­ber rains lac­er­ate the streets with ice come nat­u­rally from a char­ac­ter who spends her time in New York tend­ing to the sick and in­jured.

Real peo­ple and events are wo­ven into this work of fic­tion, en­hanc­ing its in­trigue and au­then­tic­ity with­out re­mov­ing the spot­light from Cass. Cass’s ob­ses­sion with sci­en­tific ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and ex­am­i­na­tion, com­pounded by mem­o­ries of her fa­ther’s max­ims (“Be care­ful what you look for be­cause that is what you’ll find”), in­fuses the story with de­tail, in­sight, and depth.

Mer­i­lyn Si­monds’s Refuge com­pels many ques­tions, and one fi­nal ques­tion looms: Do refuges, in their var­i­ous forms, pro­tect peo­ple from harm, or do they func­tion as a mag­net for what peo­ple most fear? LINDA THORLAKSON

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