(20. – 907.) The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey – Death in the oilfields of Alberta has reached out to crush the Now family, more than half a continent away, on the coast of Newfoundland. Lured by high paying work in the oilpatch young Chris Now left his outport community of Hampten. Six weeks later he was dead in an accident at an oil rig. The Now family is three years into a grief that has not eased. Father, Sylvanus, drunk every day refuses to even mention Chris’s name. Sister, Sylvie, is in Africa trying to safari away from her sorrow. Brother, Kyle, constantly chews his fingers. Mother, Addie, amidst her own sadness strives to instill hope but the Now’s remain a family lost in pain.
Hard times have been a constant in outport life as the cod fishery came to an end and the residents of smaller outport communities forced to move to larger towns. Sylvanus, before grief overwhelmed him, had an uncommon spirit:
The story was still told how Sylvanus thumbed his nose at the relocation money and stayed till the last fish was caught, stayed till they nearly starved, and then determined not to lose his house, took out his chain saw and cut the house in half. He then floated both halves up the bay and landed them atop this wharf and declared to his astonished Addie – This is as far as she goes. By Christ if I can’t work the sea, I’ll sleep on it. No gawd-damned mortal telling me where I sleeps.
And still the house sits upon that wharf.
Among their neighbours are Clar and Bonnie Gillard. Clar, battered as a boy, has become a battering man and Bonnie the brunt of his abuse. Kyle cannot understand why she continues to return to him assault after assault. As she does for many Addie provides comfort to Bonnie accepting her choices.
Nearby is Kate, a middle-aged woman, who lives a simple life in a small home. Kate moved in a few years ago. Quiet about her past she has a fire going most evenings outside her home. People come and go, usually bringing a six pack of beer, while Kate plays her guitar and works on the songs she is writing of her life.
There is a confrontation between Sylvanus and Clar over Clar’s provocative disruption at the cemetery where Chris is buried.
Kyle’s quick tongue lashes Clar over his loutish behavior.
Sylvanus and Kyle, so caught up in their grief over Chris, are stunned when Addie tells them she has breast cancer and will need immediate surgery. My next post will discuss illness and death in a small Canadian community.
After getting the news Kyle runs off and gets drunk. Leaving the bar he is sucker punched by Clar. Later he passes out on the wharf outside the house.
During the night Clar is killed. He has been stabbed with a knife and his body dumped into the ocean. His dog, a Labrador, has dragged the dead master ashore.
Suspicion alights upon the members of the Now family. Kyle fears his mother or father may have killed Clar in self-defence or while protecting Bonnie. Friends rally with stories to protect Kyle.
The RCMP find talkative but not informative witnesses.
It is a rare book that manages to have a credible mystery combined with high family dramas. Morrissey meets the challenge. If anything, I found myself more interested in the Now family than the murder investigation.
Morrissey in description and dialogue brings modern outport Newfoundland to life.
The sea and rocky land make for a striking landscape. The fog is an evening companion.
Morrissey has a keen ear for the language and rhythms of the islanders. I found myself sitting among the characters listening to their conversations.
The Now men find they cannot keep hiding from their grief. Addie’s cancer and Clar’s murder force them to face their sorrow.
Kyle is told:
Well, I’m grieving a son. Weigh that in your heart when you’re judging mine. I’m all he’s got. He’s lost his sense of reality. That makes him the living dead and he’s only got me to fight for him. And he don’t know that because he’s angry with me. Real angry, and he won’t let me help.
The book is so well written it flows both gracefully and powerfully. It is an excellent contender on this year’s shortlist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Fiction Novel.