THE LAST RIVER CHILD by Lori Ann Bloomfield

Book Quote:

“Through her letters she had become the voice of this land and this sky, of all that was here and was good. He had marched into battle with her summer-scented letters in his breast pocket. Long after he had forgotten what he was fighting for, her words had been his compass point, unwavering and sure, leading him home.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate (DEC 3, 2010)

Although set around 100 years ago, including the period of the 1914–18 war, this gentle novel is not primarily about the soldiers, but the mothers, sisters, and loved ones they leave at home. The setting is Walvern, a small village in rural Ontario, where everybody knows everybody else. Or they think they know them, for acquaintance can turn easily into gossip and suspicion. Peg Staynor, the heroine, becomes a victim of it, even as a child. For her curiously pale grey eyes and solitary manner play into local suspicions that she is a “river child,” the reincarnation of someone previously drowned, who will bring them bad luck. It is a barely credible device (and unfortunately not the only example of somewhat strained plotting), but it works well as a metaphor for a loneliness that gradually turns into independence and strength. For this is essentially a coming-of-age story with a sweet touch of romance, and Peg makes a heroine who is very easy to care about.

The first part of the book takes us back to the girlhood of Peg’s mother, Rose. Growing up poor in the city, she suffers from gossip that she is the model for the pin-up drawings that her artist mother is forced to do to keep food on the table. Answering an advertisement for a housekeeper to a bachelor farmer, she moves to the country, marries, and has two children: Peg and her elder sister Sarah. So she understands when Peg is persecuted in her turn, and does all she can to protect her younger daughter’s freedom.

Unfortunately, Rose dies on the day that war is declared, and her husband turns to drink. So the girls are left to fend largely for themselves. The departure of young men to the front puts pressure on the local girls, rushing them into engagements, marriages, and in some cases pregnancy. Some of the soldiers return wounded in mind or body; others do not return at all. The beautiful and popular Sarah handles the situation poorly, though understandably so. The younger Peg is less directly affected, though she makes friends with a teenage boy who is counting the days until he can sign up to become a pilot. And she inevitably becomes involved in Sarah’s mistakes, finding in herself unexpected reservoirs of competence and kindness that bring this book at steady pace to a heartwarming ending.

This (after Ami Sands Brodoff’s The White Space Between) is the second book that I have reviewed from Second Story Press, a company founded in 1988 “dedicated to publishing feminist-inspired books for adults and young readers.” The young-adult designation fits this particular book well. True, there are other female Canadian authors who treat similar subjects more compellingly: Alice Munro, for instance, or Jane Urquhart in The Stone Carvers. But Lori Ann Bloomfield has an honest voice with little self-consciousness and much warmth, and this alone makes her novel worth reading.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Second Story Press (September 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Lori Ann Bloomfield
EXTRAS: Interview with Lori Ann Bloomfield
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Other Canadian women writers:

And one set in a small town in Ontario:


December 3, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  В· Posted in: Canada, Coming-of-Age, Debut Novel, Facing History, Family Matters

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