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Nicole Lundrigan: Thaw

In 1898 a couple seem to be lost in a heavy Canadian snow storm. What is worse, she is pregnant and about to give birth, which she does, surprisingly quite smoothly. However, to her horror, the husband, eager to get his wife and newly born daughter home, refuses to bury the placenta. She tells him that, if he does not, the child will go astray. However, he is persistent and the placenta is left. Some feral dogs eat it and they die soon after, maybe from the cold but maybe not.

We now jump many years ahead to the Newfoundland town of Cupboard Cove. It is a poor town, with few jobs. Tilley Gover is at school. His father, Earl, works the night shift at a local factory and his mother, Maureen, is a ticket seller at the local bingo parlour. His brother, Boyd, has just managed to get a job at the billiard hall, though he will not keep the job long.

Earl learns that a new house being built is not, as he thought, a new hotel but a house for a returning native, David Boone, now a successful painter. David was eager to return home, his wife, Annette, less so and the expensive house is her recompense. His mother, Hazel, who seems to be going senile, is with them. Annette thinks Hazel should be in a home but David disagrees.

In much of the early part of the book we follow Tilley Gover. His father expects him to be a macho man but he is not interested. He has shown a talent for drawing and, indeed, his mother treasures an idealised drawing he made of her. Earl considers drawing to be cissy and roundly condemns and mocks him. Earl buys Tilley a gun but it is Boyd who uses it. Earl even takes Tilley hunting, something Tilley really does not want to do, and Tilly disgraces his father.

One cold day Maureen and Tilley find Hazel wandering around on her own, looking for Harvey (her husband who died fifty years ago). They take her back home and meet the Boones. Maureen persuades David that he should teach Tilley how to draw and paint. David reluctantly agrees.

The rest of the book essentially tells two stories. We follow Tilley as he grows up, as he studies drawing (and painting) with David Boone, as he is attracted to Marnie, David’s daughter, and as he deals with his increasingly aggressive father for whom Tilley is never man enough, unlike his tattooed, pot-smoking, aggressive brother. The drawing goes fairly well, though David criticises Tilley, complaining that his drawings are devoid of passion.

At the same time, we are following the story of Hazel Boone. She meets Harvey, her husband to be (the seventh son of a seventh son), as he is digging her mother’s grave. There is a passion between them, almost from the start, that we do not see much of elsewhere but, though they marry and have children, the marriage is not a particularly happy one, not least because Hazel, who we have guessed (though we are never told) is the child born at the beginning, is doomed to go astray. Despite their marital problems, Hazel remains attached to Harvey and even comes down to the Gover house looking for him.

Inevitably, there is a hidden family secret which comes out and which both explains some of the events and which links the Boones and the Govers.

Lundrigan does not hide which side she is on. She clearly condemns the macho culture of Earl and Boyd (and others). Indeed, Earl will pay a price for his behaviour. She is clearly more sympathetic to the female characters and to Tilley who, in his father’s opinion, is too cissy. However, some of the women – the snobbish Annette, for example – are condemned. Interestingly enough, there are cases where what Lundrigan calls passion appear. The passion between Hazel and Harvey ends up being, to a certain extent, their undoing, particularly as it is not accompanied by responsibility. We see passion – at least in the sexual sense – in various extramarital/premarital relationships and, on the whole little good comes of it. Finally, as mentioned Tilley’s drawing are condemned for the lack of passion. However, Tilley himself defends his approach and David more or less backs off from his accusation. Does art need passion? Sometimes, yes, but clearly not always. The implication is that the same view can be applied to passion in life.

Regardless of your view on the role of passion in art and in life, Lundrigan does tell a good story. Tilley, the sensitive artist, manages to forge his own way, despite his father and brother and, indeed, despite his own sexual yearnings, more or less resisting the approaches of Ida, niece of their neighbour and his mother’s best friend. Ida is both mocked (for stuffing her bra with tissues) and pitied (for her mother’s own passionate, profligate behaviour). Indeed, he may, to a limited degree, be seen as the artist who makes his own way, despite the complications of life in a small town. At the same time, we follow the story of a woman, the unfortunate circumstances of whose birth has led her astray and condemned her to a life where clearly she is not happy and where she ends up adrift and lost, looking for what she has lost because of her own mistakes. The lives of the two intersect (to a degree) but both make their own way in the world.

Publishing history

First published 2005 by Jesperson