- Ann Haley
Howard Norman's newest novel takes the reader back to a setting - Nova Scotia - familiar to fans of his previous works, and back in time to the 1940s when the Canadian Maritime provinces were vulnerable to German attack and even more remote than they remain today. I am among the fans of this and two of Norman's earlier novels, The Bird Artist and The Museum Guard, where each offered a compelling mix of interesting characters and unique takes on love, death, and loneliness.
What Is Left the Daughter is structured as a series of letters from Wyatt Hillyer to his long absent daughter. The opening paragraph hints of the drama to be revealed if we read on:
"Marlais, today is March 26, 1967, your twenty-first birthday. I'm writing because I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you. I've waited until now to relate the terrible incident tht I took part in on October 16, 1942, when I was nineteen."
Even in those few words, something of the letter writer's gentle, thoughtful character reveals itself.
We're told forthwith that Wyatt became an apprentice in sleds and toboggans in the village of Middle Economy, Nova Scotia, having been welcomed into the home of his aunt and uncle following his parents' separate suicides on the same day. ("LOCAL BOY ORPHANED BY BRIDGES" read one headline.) As Wyatt spins out his story in the letters to Marlais, we trace his progress toward new love, family, community. Then comes the unravelling: passion, murder, death by drowning in a cold sea. Read all about it, and find out how father finally comes to mail his stack of pages to his daughter, the "secret untold that keeps a distance between you and her and the life you were given," a precious legacy.