Preoccupation with large families continues in Lawson’s latest work
Mary Lawson is well known as the late-blooming, Canadianborn author of two bestselling books. Now, with a third novel, Road Ends, she can justifiably lay claim to an oeuvre as well as a personal geography. If the part of Ontario southwest of Toronto is Munro country, then the area northwest of New Liskeard and Cobalt — where her fictional towns of Struan and Crow Lake are roughly located — may well end up as Lawson Country.
What preoccupies Lawson is families; specifically large, sibling-rich families pockmarked by tragedy. In her writing, Lawson has always been more about craftsmanship than innovation: What she does she does so impeccably that the triumph of duty over dreams seems somehow urgent and compelling.
In each novel, there’s also some kind of pull from outside. In Crow Lake, it was the city and university; in The Other Side of the Bridge it was the Second World War. In Road Ends, set Mary Lawson Knopf Canada between 1966 and 1969, it’s the lure of Cool Britannia — though having forgone university to run the family household in tiny Struan, 21-year-old Megan is so blinkered she has no idea any such phenomenon exists; her aim is simply to see the world before it’s too late.
Children forced to cope in the absence of their parents is another recurring theme in these novels. In Crow Lake this was literal: the parents of the Morrison children die in a road accident. Here, it’s figurative. Edward, the Cartwright family’s nominal head, avoids the nerveshattering chaos of screaming children, unwashed laundry and uncooked meals by working late at the bank where he’s manager or holing himself up in his study, where he reads about great cities he’ll never visit. His “vague and forgetful” wife, Emily, meanwhile, has eyes only for her current baby, to the degree that four-year-old Adam literally goes hungry, his bed so drenched in urine that even the housekeeper won’t touch it.
For years, Emily’s increasing ineffectiveness went unnoticed because Megan, her only daughter, had seamlessly filled her place. Megan’s role is so taken for granted by the rest of the family that when she announces she’s bought a one-way ticket to England, they either ignore her or don’t believe her.