New Finds

Oh, Canada

Helen O'Mara, the widow in Lisa Moore's February, is a fascinating and admirable character.

Book Cover A number of Canadian authors of my acquaintance—Gil Adamson, Wayne Johnstonand, Michael Ondaatje—have sung the praises of Newfoundlandian writer Lisa Moore (Alligator). Now comes her second novel, February (Black Cat), and I am pleased to report I can see that the awards and accolades are justified.

Based on a real event, a 1982 oil-rig sinking in a storm off the coast of Newfoundland, which killed 84 men, the novel is set in the present (November 2008). The story revolves around Helen O’Mara, pregnant and already the mother of three when she loses her husband Cal in that disaster. The narrative see-saws between the present as she prepares for another kind of transformative event and the various dates in the 30 years she has lived “outside”—Helen’s description of her existential status in her widowhood. In fact, as we see through numerous flashbacks, she has not disengaged from her relationship with her dead husband—something she has stoically kept hidden from her children and older sister.

Moore is a masterful prose artist and her descriptions of St. John’s, the old waterfront houses, her children’s foibles, the carpenter renovating her house, and the places her son John has visited—Iceland and Tasmania—are vivid and immediate. And most of all, Helen’s widowhood as told from the inside, is made resonant and palpable.

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R.I.P. Barry Hannah.
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