This story of two sisters growing up in the harsh environment of a Canadian fishing/farming town started out well. You meet Idella and Avis in 1916 as children surrounded by their close knit fishing community, mom, dad and an older mother. Their older brother is always distant and prefers being out on the boat to helping around the farm and dad’s mood depends on how much he’s been drinking leaving mom to be the center of their world. Shortly into the book she dies in childbirth and now young Idella must step-up and take over the household duties and raising her caring but wild younger sister. After several missteps with hiring girls in their teens to help raise the girls and take care of the household chores dad sends the girls off to live with their aunt and uncle on a farm in Maine. Both girls love going to school and are amazed at how deep dark and rich the earth of their aunt’s farm is compared to the dust brown, dry, rocky dirt of home.
But then their dad is injured in a hunting accident and the girls must return home to take care of him and “the place.” Their brother leaves the house as soon as the girls arrive, not able to stand their father’s moods any longer. Still by this time I was invested in the characters and wanted to see how Idella and Avis managed.
Then it felt like the author didn’t know how to continue the story and decides to jump ahead to when the girls are adults and living in America. Idella and Avis continue to make one poor decision after another especially with men. Then the book switches into each character telling their memories of life as an adult and Idella’s children and husband sharing memories of what it was like to live with her.
I discovered after reading the book that it is a compilation of short stories about the same family written by the author who died unpublished at the age of 49. This explains so much! The first part of the book was published as “Gone” and the chapters dealing with Idella and Avis returning home to bury their father was published as “Wake.” The beginning was the best part of the book I thought and I wonder what the author could have accomplished if she’d live to weave all her stories into one cohesive novel.