Coming to terms. Life can change in a heartbeat and while some adjust reasonably soon to a shock, others, like Helen, take 25 years to survive, in her case the disaster on the oil-rig that took the life of her husband and 80 more. Twenty five years of sorrow, of mourning, of living in the past and simply not accepting, leave her with loneliness as her solace and best friend, while she exists, filling her hours with yoga and her grandchildren and not really knowing that life can still be good. The circle, however, needs to be completed and more changes occur – an unexpected pregnancy for her son and a girl he barely knew, and Helen could really feel again.
The story is one thing, the way it is told the other. Complex yet clear, compelling and profound, the style is a joy to read and Lisa Moore’s story-spinning gift is great. Her people become our people, her richly described settings our own. We move into Helen’s Newfoundland and read about its folklore as we grieve with her. We see the dawn breaking and we trust that finally she will, too. We travel with her son John from his Icelandic break with Jane and its hectic results to Tasmania, Singapore and New York and suffer with him as he struggles to acknowledge this most profound of all changes affecting his own life. We are with Jane when John questions it all and wants an abortion and feel her anger and resolution. We play with Helen’s grandchildren and worry about her unsupported parenting skills which keep touching her. Her 15-year-old daughter becomes pregnant and she slaps her. We experience Helen’s emotions as she travels from the horror of the past to the present and back again, seamlessly, and her quest for acceptance and, ultimately, survival becomes ours.
We taste the stews, the spareribs and the snails; we sense the fog and hear the dogs bark and the profanities of New York’s street people as we fly between the dreams and the reality. We experience Cal’s life with her, their arguments and their making up, and his death through his own eyes as well as through Helen’s. With her, we accept we are all part of the same community of ordinary spirits, some with more courage than others, most with the same worries and concerns, the same rite of passage from birth, through adolescence, wedding nights, childbirth to death with Valentine’s Day cards, Christmas and Darfur in between, when the plumbing goes wrong, the sills are rotting and the house needs painting. But souls will soar. Even the mundane becomes special. Cal couldn’t swim.
As Helen finally comes to terms with the loss of Cal, so she is freed up to find life and, Lisa Moore gives us reason to hope, happiness anew. There is a future, it is looking good, and we can breathe again.
By Lisa Moore
$29.95, paperback, 320 pp.
House of Anansi, June 2009