Monday, December 20, 2010

What We're Reading

What is Left the Daughter
By Howard Norman

A small town in Nova Scotia during World War II is the landscape and historical setting of this bleak and dark novel, a tragic tale that holds us with its wonderfully original and memorable characters, imaginative prose, and descriptions of the quirks of provincial life . In a memoir that unfolds of an ordinary life that has been filled with extraordinary reversal and loss, Wyatt Hillyer, in a hopeful act of love to his long absent daughter gives to her the only thing he has left, his story.

This is Job’s tale, but it is told without Job’s complaint and confusion. Wyatt recounts the violent tragedies of his life in a voice that seems at times protectively bland and at other times almost banal. As in the conventions of classic tragedy, we are told the actions, we do not have to be told the depth of feeling or suffering they involve. Our sense of sorrow comes not from the words of the wounded but from a knowledge of shared vulnerabilities and sensitivities with every man. Wyatt’s seeming distance from the cruel turns of his fate, his unwillingness to analyze and disambiguate his own moral failures or those of others who surround him, leaves us with a stunned narrator who seems na├»ve about how relentlessly malignant the world has been to him. It is something that adds immeasurably to the poignancy of his story.

What is Left the Daughter is not a story like Job’s where suffering has some meaning even if it be not visible to our limited vision and understanding. It is not a satire like Voltaire’s Candide where suffering is wickedly and wittingly exposed to have no benign or redemptive value at all. Rather it is a story where we learn that it is not our suffering that has meaning, but rather the telling of our story. Our story does not explain or redeem our suffering, but it is what we are left, the only thing we have to offer and the only thing with which we have to connect. What is our hope, and what is left us, is narrative.

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