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February by Lisa Moore

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February by Lisa Moore

I would have predicted that the novel, February, by Lisa Moore, published this summer, would win all the awards this fall – but I knew I would probably wrong – and I am. As so often happens, the novels that do win are not the ones I have most enjoyed reading.

That being said, I read February, at first in small doses, over a week this past summer. It is a novel you could dash off in a day but I found I had to take a break from the intensity of the grief captured in this novel.

The story takes place in 1982, in February, Valentine’s Day in fact, when the oilrig the Ocean Ranger fell into the sea and all were drowned. No survivors. It takes place also in 2008 as Helen, the widow of Cal, who died that day, begins another day of her own life.

There is so much in this novel it is hard to know where to start. There is the scene of Helen watching the couple next door through her window, and she wonders “Why Cal? Why me?” The intense jealousy at the happiness of others, when she is so raw with grief.

Helen and Cal loved each other well, his death was devastating for Helen and their children. When Cal died, Helen was pregnant with her fourth child, one that Cal would never know. The eldest, John, takes on the role of “man of the house” – a term I remember from my 1950’s childhood – what a terrible burden to place on a child.

John, as an adult, has not found the love his parents had – he might have, but he refuses to make the commitment of marriage and children. One scene has John meeting a woman, a psychic in a bar. John doesn’t want to know what’s in the future. “The present is always dissolving into the past, he realized long ago. The present dissolves. It gets used up. The past is virulent and ravenous and everything can be devoured in a matter of seconds. That’s the enigma of the present. The past has already infiltrated it…”

Helen is 56 in November 2008 – I realize she is my own age, of my own generation, her life experience is parallels my own – her memories of world events are events I also remember. Her son John is in New York City in November 2008 when Obama is elected, I was as well.

But Lisa Moore was only 18 years old in 1982 when the Ocean Ranger went down; I wondered what her own story is, as I read the story of Helen.

The girls, Cathy and Lulu and baby Gabrielle, grow up, their teenage years somewhat tumultuous. By the time we meet them again in 2008 the children are all adults.

When Cathy has a child, “Mom, she has Dad’s ears.” Such a simple observation, and how heart breaking and life affirming at the same time. That Lisa Moore has not only thought to observe this, but has been able to capture it in words, is the magic of a writer.

Of course, as the time has passed, and the family has grown and aged, Cal has not. Cal will always be the young husband and father –who has not been there for Helen or their children as they have aged.

Helen sometimes goes over the “what if’s” fruitlessly, knowing they were not to be. There is nothing that will change the past, as Helen goes alone into the future. Helen knows the difference between loneliness and solitude, one carefully crafted, the other she lives in fear of.

There are moments for Helen when “she’ll remember and live through a fierce wallop of grief. It can take her by surprise. Knock her silly.” Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows this experience.

This is a novel where the reader will be swept away in the story, and in the language and skill of the writer. Thank you, Lisa Moore.

Immediately upon finishing this book I contacted Lisa Moore, and she is booked to read at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Wednesday 22 September 2010 – watch for details in the new year.

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