Pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with large fam­i­lies con­tin­ues in Law­son’s lat­est work

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - EMILY DON­ALD­SON

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.

Road Ends

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