Wednesday, January 4, 2012


In Nova Scotia in the 1940s, Wyatt becomes a teenage orphan when his parents jump to their deaths on separate bridges.  Both mother and father were in love with the same female switchboard operator, and, although this might seem humorous, the novel is dead serious.  From this point onward, Wyatt seems to be buffeted from one unfortunate situation to another without sufficient backbone to extricate himself.  His role in the novel's pivotal event has a huge negative impact on his life, particularly his relationship with Tilda, his beautiful cousin who is adopted and therefore not a blood relative.  He might have succeeded in winning Tilda's favor had he been a little more forthcoming in declaring his intentions, and if Hans, a German college student, had not appeared on the scene.  Now we have another love triangle of sorts, and the consequences are just as dire.  Tilda's father, addicted to war reports on the radio, cannot abide Tilda's love for Hans, and his hatred of Germans intensifies when a U-boat attacks a Newfoundland ferry.  I read this book in a hurry, and the rush may have reduced my enjoyment a bit, but I think I would have found it frustrating anyway.  The book is structured as a series of letters from Wyatt to his daughter Marlais, and I had hoped that the reader would become aware of her reaction.  No such luck.  It's basically an outpouring of Wyatt's life, perhaps to atone for his absence, but I couldn't glean an explanation for why he hadn't made some effort to insert himself into her life.  Instead, he relies on Cornelia, a baker in his hometown, to give him second-hand news from Denmark, where Marlais grew up.  Perhaps his two main occupations provide a clue.  For a while he was apprenticed to Tilda's father, building sleds and toboggans.  Now, these are vehicles without rudders (I think) and perhaps a metaphor for Wyatt's uncharted life in which he doesn't seem to steer in a particular direction.  Later he becomes a harbor gaffer, collecting shipwreck debris, all of which has to be accounted for.  In one case, he and his co-worker rescue soggy volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, which the co-worker keeps for her children to use.  My take on this is that the encyclopedia represents Marlais, the one thing worth hanging on to from the crumbs of Wyatt's past.

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