The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark
Joan Clark, now at the age of 80 years old has just published a new novel The Birthday Lunch.
Joan Clark grew up in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, she spent many years in Ontario and Alberta, and now lives in Newfoundland where many of her books are set. The Birthday Lunch however is set in Sussex, New Brunswick, a town Joan Clark knows well, and the closest town to the farm belonging to my maternal grandparents where I spent time every summer as a child, and where we lived for a couple of years in the early 1960s.
The Birthday Lunch takes place in in 1981. Terry Fox died in June 1981, and Charles and Diana were married in July 1981, so I imagine most of those who are my age have pretty clear memories of the time. We can picture this town, before the ubiquitous chain stores made all small towns look much the same. People drank rum and coke, and some behavior quite acceptable now might be considered “scandalous”. There is mention of the “400 crowd” - the people with money – those who made over $400 a week!
The book begins, “Hal McNab made love to his wife for the last time the morning of the day she was killed.” Are you hooked already? I was.
It is Lily McNab’s 58th birthday. It is expected to be a busy day, an appointment in the morning and both her husband, and her sister, Laverne, plan to take her out for lunch.
As we learn in that first sentence Lily is killed – unexpectedly, suddenly. Her husband is stunned and bereft – her sister retreats – her daughter Claudia arrives from Shediac, and her son Matt from Calgary.
We spend our days and nights with these family members who, as they plan the funeral, wonder how such a thing could have happened. The sudden, shocking death of a woman they all loved so much. And, through their memories and conversations we come to know Lily just a little - and some of her family very well. There are hints that this may not have been an “accident”. Perhaps someone conspired to make the day of Lily’s birthday day unfold as it did. Perhaps everyone involved in the story, and affected by Lily’s death, has something to hide.
If, like me, you’ve always believed you need to do things today, in case you’re hit by a truck tomorrow, don’t wait any longer. And make sure you read The Birthday Lunch.
Joan Clark should be a household name in Canada as one of our most prolific and recognized writers of fiction for both children and adults. Many of us do know her work, but I found that much of it is now out of print. Our literary culture is slowly but definitely disappearing as multinational owners of “Canadian” publishing houses choose to quietly but steadily let many books by some of our best authors go out of print, just quietly disappearing. I find it the saddest part of my job when I attempt to order books I loved reading, and would like to share with my customers, but find they are no longer available.
The Dream Carvers, a novel for children, is now considered a “classic” and is available as a Puffin Classic but it appears that most of Joan Clark’s books for children are no longer in print.
Her novel The Victory of Geraldine Gull won the Governor General’s Award, in 1990 she was awarded the Marian Engel Award, and in 1999 the Vicky Metcalf Award recognizing her body of work as “inspirational to Canadian youth”.
Her novel Latitudes of Melt, published in 2000, is one my favourites and after reading the new novel Latitudes of Melt is going to the top of my “books to re-read” pile. It is the story of an infant found on an ice pan off the coast of Newfoundland in the early 1900s and was shortlisted for both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
So, a new novel from Joan Clark is very definitely a reason to celebrate.