Tuesday, August 13, 2013

February in August

Dedicated readers will remember that I suffered a serious back injury this past winter. While long, long walks and near-constant motion helped in my physical rehabilitation, it was the steady engagement of my intellect that kept my mind sane and focused. One of the programs that I was fortunate enough to listen to in it's entirety was the CBC Canada Reads Turf Wars. This annual Battle of  the Books features well-known Canadian personalities pitching their favorite book from the shortlist presented. Regional fiction was the genre this year, and each celebrity was matched to his/her geographical area of Canada. Podcasts and televised episodes are available in the event that one is unable to listen to the live radio broadcast. I highly recommend tuning into this program and cannot wait to hear what is planned for 2014.

Newfoundland-born comedian, Trent McClellan, successfully defended Lisa Moore's February. It was chosen as the Canada Reads 2013 winner. Perhaps it would have been more beneficial if  I had read the book before listening to the Canada Reads program. Nonetheless, the discussions that ensued caused me to immediately include February on my To Read list. Although I had known of Lisa Moore, I had not read any of her work at this point. I must confess that a good friend had given me a copy of Moore's Degrees of Nakedness, with high praise. That was a few years ago. And although I gave it a try, I just couldn't seem to get into this collection of short stories. I will certainly be giving it another go.

I can't even begin to describe Moore's writing style. What can you say about a novel that has so much dialogue, yet does not include one quotation mark? And yet, it is so easy to follow along. Even when the past and present are intertwined in the narrative. Isn't that how real life is played out? The past is such a feature in our lives that we often live interchangeably between the two. Like the main character, our dreams and memories become a part of our present reality. And then there is the word choice and placement. Moore expertly crafts her narrative. I began by marking sentences and phrases that attached themselves to my senses. Not only could I envision the scene, but I could hear, smell and feel it as well. Many of the words just sounded delicious on my tongue. To avoid completely marking up my whole copy, and to preserve the enjoyable reading experience, I soon abandoned this practice. And enjoy the book, I did.

Although the book has a big event at it's centre: the real-life sinking of the oil rig Ocean Ranger on Valentine's Day, 1982, the story is really about a collection of small, everyday events that occur to Helen O'Mara, a 56 year-old mother of four, widowed by this catastrophe. The reader is taken along this journey of Helen's life, from her teen years to the present (2008). Each of the life stages that she encounters are described so realistically that Helen O'Mara ranks right near the top of my list of identifiable characters. Of course, anyone who knows me well, knows that I love reading books that are set in a familiar locale. I loved picturing Helen walking along Bond Street (where Daughter1 lived while working in St. John's) while she goes into labour. Or, Helen and Barry going to Quidi Vidi to watch the New Year's fireworks - just as we did when we ushered in 2013. Moore is also able to effortlessly capture the Newfoundland dialogue in realistic snippets, while not overdoing it. I can certainly see how February was chosen as a representative of Atlantic Canada fiction. Overall, just very well done. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (remember: I very rarely give out 5's).

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