Saturday, September 4, 2010
What is Left The Daughter
By: Howard Norman
The Press Write Up: 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.
I first read about this book really early in the Summer because it was on Oprah's Summer Reading List. It looked pretty interesting. A lot of really big reputable publications were signing the praises of this book and it has 4.5 stars on Amazon. So when I saw it listed on Netgalley I got a copy of it from the publisher.
This book made me feel really stupid. I wasn't getting it. It says right up there "erotically charged". What? Where was that? Maybe I don't understand the definition of erotically charged? "Astonishing events?" There was one event that I found mildly surprising and it really wasn't treated with much interest.
This book is formatted as a letter from a father to a daughter, so that aspect alone makes the idea of it being erotically charged incredibly creepy. Mind you it wasn't, but how could anyone address it that way? Eww. I suppose this whole story might have been of worth to this fictional daughter, wondering about her father, but as someone completely unrelated to any of the interested parties, I found it completely boring.
I think a far more compelling story would have been one about the love triangle going on between Wyatt's parents and their neighbor that caused them to commit suicide on the same day. How tragic is that? How erotically charged is that? How morally complex is that? How INTERESTING is that? However, that story would not have been an appropriate one for a father to write to his daughter, so maybe that can be Mr. Norman's next book.
The one thing I did learn from this book is that there is such a thing as a professional mourner. You can hire someone to be a mourner at a funeral. Weird!