The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey
Donna Morrissey, born in Newfoundland and now living in Nova Scotia, is one of our most talented Canadian writers. She has consistently written powerful stories of Newfoundlanders struggling with the difficulties of living in an outport village, and the addiction and abuse that sometimes occurs in such isolated places. She writes beautifully about, often, very sad situations.
Her most recent novel The Fortunate Brother picks up the story of the Now family a few years after the death of Chris, a beloved son and brother. Sylvanus and Addie are his mother and father, Sylvie and Kyle his brother and sister. They are all still grieving in their different ways. Sylvanus has lost himself in drink, Kyle not far behind. Sylvie has gone off travelling far from home and Addie, strong for her family, has her own struggles that she holds firmly to herself.
The novel begins with Kyle drowning in his inability to see beyond his loss. We soon meet Kate, a woman who has moved into the village, seemingly without a past, though we’ll find out her story in the end. And Bonnie Gillard who has been befriended by Addie, an unlikely friendship but one that feeds something in each of them. When Bonnie’s abusive husband is murdered there begins an investigation that affects the Now family and others in the village. While one family member strives to protect another secrets are slowly revealed. Addie meanwhile has health concerns she has kept from everyone until she requires surgery. Bonnie takes charge at the hospital at Addie’s request, while Kyle and his father, each in their our way, attempt to discover what really happened to Clar Gillard.
The Fortunate Brother is not an easy novel. There are profanities galore. Donna Morrissey is criticized by some for her use of the “Newfoundland dialect”. Though many Newfoundlanders are now educated and have left behind the “Newfie accent” there are many who have not. I recently spent a few weeks in an outport village in Newfoundland and I will tell you that there have been a few people I met during my time there who could very well have been characters in this novel. Some are people who work very hard to cobble together a living – fishing, berry picking, moose hunting and more to keep food on the table. It is not an easy life – even for those who drive an hour to the nearest big town, the size of Parry Sound, for employment.
Ultimately The Fortunate Brother is a story of loss, grief and mourning – and hope. When tragedy comes, as Sylvie tells Kyle when he is finally ready to listen, “It’s never the one thing. We’re never the one responsible. And yet we all are. If there’s forgiving to be done, it’s ourselves we need to be forgiving, for being a part of it all.”