Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents commit suicide, causing him to move to a small-town, and setting in motion the novel's chain of life-altering passions, including the fathering of a beloved daughter.
Howard Norman, widely regarded as one of this country's finest novelists, returns to the mesmerizing fictional terrain of his major books--The Bird Artist, The Museum Guard, and The Haunting of L--in this erotically charged and morally complex story.
Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents, within hours of each other, jump off two different bridges--the result of their separate involvements with the same compelling neighbor, a Halifax switchboard operator and aspiring actress. The suicides cause Wyatt to move to small-town Middle Economy to live with his uncle, aunt, and ravishing cousin Tilda.
Setting in motion the novel's chain of life-altering passions and the wartime perfidy at its core is the arrival of the German student Hans Mohring, carrying only a satchel. Actual historical incidents--including a German U-boat's sinking of the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland ferry Caribou, on which Aunt Constance Hillyer might or might not be traveling--lend intense narrative power to Norman's uncannily layered story.
Wyatt's account of the astonishing--not least to him-- events leading up to his fathering of a beloved daughter spills out twenty-one years later. It's a confession that speaks profoundly of the mysteries of human character in wartime and is directed, with both despair and hope, to an audience of one.
An utterly stirring novel. This is Howard Norman at his celebrated best.
How Your Father Became an Apprentice
in Sleds and Toboggans in the Village
of Middle Economy, Nova Scotia
In The Highland Book of Platitudes, Marlais, theres an entry
that reads, Not all ghosts earn our memory in equal measure.
I think about this sometimes. I think especially about
the word earn, because it implies an ongoing willful effort
on the part of the dead, so that if you believe the platitude,
you have to believe in the afterlife, dont you? Following that
line of thought, there seem to be certain peoplecall them
ghostswith the ability to insinuate themselves into your life
with more belligerence and exactitude than othersits their
employment and expertise.
I imagine that your mother informed you of thismaybe she didntbut let me say it directly. My own mother, Katherine, and my father, Joseph, leapt from separate bridges in Halifax on the same evening. I was seventeen. Oh, it was ...
Howard Norman is a master storyteller, packing provocative details into virtually every sentence of this short, but hardly slight, novel. Secondary characters, including the bakery owner, an aspiring stenographer, and a record collector, are depicted as quirky but utterly human. Likewise, the details of life in Middle Economy, including Tilda's aspirations to become a professional mourner, Donald's increasing obsessions, and Wyatt's attempt to master a craft, are simultaneously slightly off-kilter and completely sympathetic.
(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
Full Review (499 words).
Although Donald's growing suspicions about Hans Mohring and other Europeans cross the line into obsession, some American readers may be surprised to learn just how active German U-boats were in Canadian waters during World War II. (U-boat is the anglicized version of unterseeboot, meaning undersea boat, i.e. a submarine).
During 1942, the German military mounted a series of strategic attacks on individual ships in the waters off the coast of Canada. These submarine attacks were intended to break up the formation of convoys and to disrupt the potential of North American naval activity in European waters. Because Canada had already committed a large proportion of their forces to fight overseas and their warships to escort ...
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