I am not sure what prompted me to buy two books by Mary Lawson (one which I discovered I had already read and read again with pleasure). Set in north Canada, North Ontario in an imaginary, but believable town called Struan in a lake land area the families that live there are stretched almost beyond imagining by hardship, privation, and sheer tragedy; and yet, and yet they make out and have happy lives, fulfilled by farming, family and the wild landscape.
In Crow Road, the first of these novels, we learn gradually about the struggles to tame the wilderness, the three families who came out and grubbed up the trees, made the first farms, survived and stayed. Of the three only the Pye family are left and Crow Road deals mostly with the Pye family and their nearest neighbours the Morrisons. We meet teachers and the doctor, Dr Christopherson and his dog, Molly the Irish setter and all these elements settle into a rich pattern of rural life, the smooth unruffled surface hiding some great subterranean struggles that every now and then break forth in violence. Our heroine, Kate Morrison, tells the story of her family, her background and the lives of others slowly unwrapping the details as one might unwrap china after a move.
She has moved, out into the city and is a successful academic, the rest of her family, two brothers and another sister are still stuck back at Crow Lake. Reluctantly, slowly she reveals why.
The second book, The Other Side of the Bridge, we have moved on a decade or so, this time we are with the Christopherson family, and mostly through the eyes of the son of the doctor in the previous volume, Ian Christopherson. Still a teenager, he is struck early on by the fragility of relationships and how easily trust is broken. Dumbly and unwillingly he has to help his father in the surgery from time to time, he sees how endless the tasks of a rural doctor are, how ruthless the demands on his time; Ian decides that nothing on earth will propel him into that life.
Impelled by the alluring attraction of Laura Dunn that he can do nothing with, Ian volunteers to work on Arthur Dunn’s farm at weekends and during the holidays, thinking he will be spending time near Laura. Actually nothing could be further from the truth since he spends his hours working hard.
In the same way as in Crow Road, the story behind the circumstances in which Ian finds himself, are slowly revealed. We go back to life on the farm when Arthur and his brother Jake are young, Arthur the responsible, ox-like son of the soil and Jake his dare-devil, handsome, wayward brother. Things go from bad to worse, and then get worse. The outcomes are inevitable, but Arthur salvages something from the wreckage…and then Jake breezes back into their lives again.
Novels about Canada, especially the early pioneer period and the struggle to survive have an enduring fascination for me. I strongly recommend both these books and the new one Road Ends will surely not disappoint.