Wednesday, June 10, 2015


This is the second novel I’ve read in the past 6 months about an elderly person taking a long journey on foot, complete with a media circus and a spouse waiting at home.  (The other book is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.)  In this case, Etta is the person on walkabout, crossing Canada from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia.  She has difficulty remembering who she is and carries a sheet of paper with personal information on it, which she does remember to look at from time to time, with the help of a coyote who joins her en route.  Her husband Otto creates his own small bit of fame by populating his yard with life-size papier-maché animals that he constructs to pass the time.  The two begin corresponding, mirroring their earlier letter exchanges from the time when Otto was a soldier in Europe.  However, now Otto, who has no address for the wandering Etta, just accumulates the letters that he writes without every sending them.  I found it odd that Otto doesn’t embark on a search for his wife, especially since her journey seems dangerous and almost impossible for someone in her mental state.  However, he takes her leaving in stride, while his neighbor and life-long friend Russell is the one who decides to try to find Etta but then veers off on his own crusade.  No worries, though, because Etta has the coyote, whom she has dubbed James, accompanying her, and she and James consult with each other verbally about their journey.  I’m not sure if the author intended a little magical realism here or some inscrutable symbolism or a glimpse of Etta’s delusions or what.  The author also seems to have a penchant for symmetry.  Etta and Otto’s relationship begins with communication by correspondence, and now they’re at it again.  Then they both attract public attention with their separate endeavors, and eventually their souls seem to converge in a somewhat bafflng way.  The fact that Otto and Russell, who grew up in the same household, went to school on alternate days so that one would always be at home to do chores, struck me as peculiar and yet practical, with its own sort of symmetry.

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