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What They Wanted by Donna Morrissey

9780670044788lDonna Morrissey will read from her novel What They Wanted on Wednesday 25 March at 7:30 pm at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts.

Usually, when I am reading a novel that I plan to review, I make notes – but as I read Donna Morrissey’s new book What They Wanted I couldn’t put it down long enough to make notes.

Her previous book Sylvanus Now is one of my favourites and this new novel is a continuation of the story of that family many years later. However, it is not necessary to have read the earlier novel, this new novel stands alone. The children of Sylvanus Now are now grown up. The daughter, Sylvie, has left home, gained a university education, and has come home to Newfoundland, from her job in Alberta, because her father is ill. As Sylvie enters her father’s hospital room she finds her father seriously ill and her mother sitting by the bed – where she has been for days. Sylvie has only a short time at home and spends her days at the hospital, trying to convince her mother to get some rest at home. We learn about Sylvie’s childhood, how she lived with her grandmother, while her two young brothers lived with her parents, and how this has affected her throughout her young life.

We learn of the family’s journey from the outport where her father was a fisherman, to the village where he now works in the lumber industry. Sylvie and her mother have a complicated relationship, both wanting so much the love of the other, and neither with the ability to express it. Sylvie loves her brothers, and wants her brother Chris to leave the village and go to art college in Halifax. Their mother, who wanted to leave so desperately herself a generation earlier, will not hear of it. We also learn of Sylvie’s love for Ben, the boy she loved from the time of their childhood, a love that has never wavered.

As their father seems to be recovering, Sylvie and Chris leave for Grand Prairie, Alberta, where Sylvie has a summer job in a bar, making huge tips from the oil rig workers on their days off in town.  Chris insists on taking a job on the rigs and Sylvie follows. It is a rough world of rough men – and a dangerous one. There is such a sense of impending disaster in this novel – I could not put it down. The reader just knows that something awful is going to happen – that one of these characters that you have come to care for is going to be injured or killed.

When tragedy does come it is devastating for the survivors. Donna Morrissey wrote about grief in such a way that I was sure she must have had some personal experience of the death of a lover or sibling – and she has. This novel is written from the heart.

What They Wanted is an absolutely riveting novel, the writing rich with the voice of Newfoundland. Donna Morrissey is a dynamic woman and I can promise that her reading will invigorate and excite everyone.

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