CATCH ME WHEN I FALL by Patricia Westerhof

Book Quote:

“Love, she taught me, is not a feeling. It is an austere and practical discipline. A service. It demands loyalty, devotion, and self-sacrifice.”

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe В (MAR 16, 2011)

Whenever she doubts her role as “just a housewife,” Vicky recalls “Oma,” (her grandmother) giving her the above advice. Oma had escaped to Canada from Holland in January 1945 with Vicky’s father and her other four children with nothing but the clothes they wore, the family Bible and a piece of paper giving the name of somebody to contact. Now, Vicky wants to make good by bringing her Alzheimer suffering father into her home. In her first collection, Catch Me When I Fall, Patricia Westerhof weaves eleven stories into a sensitively imagined, multi-layered tapestry of life in a small farming community in central Alberta. In Poplar Grove, home to Dutch-Canadian immigrants for three generations, the different families have formed, over time, a close-knit community of friends and neighbours where hardly anything escapes the kindly or the scrutinizing eyes of some of the older inhabitants.

Each story stands alone, told in most cases by a narrator of the younger generation, depicting a distinct set of circumstances of one or another family or individual. While telling the stories in a lively, often humorous, and quietly understated way, Westerhof explores deeper human concerns and, in particular, inter-generational tensions and conflicts. The parents and grandparents – the older generation – feel deeply connected to their faith and traditions and are secure in the many rituals established within their church community. Not seeing any reason to question their beliefs in the spiritual and societal order, they come across to the younger generations (and the reader) as somewhat too rigidly stuck in the past; they respond helplessly or aggressively to the rebellious behaviour and actions of the young. The young, at the same time, are experiencing doubts themselves and/or are confronted by what may appear to them as overwhelming challenges, yet, feeling unable to consult their parents or approach the kindly Reverend Dykstra for help or advice.

Westerhof, quite ambitiously it seems to me, aims to tackle such a wide range of social, moral and social problems – a different one in each story – that one wonders how they can all happen in a small community such as Poplar Grove. We meet young Eustace, terrified to admit to his parents that his Jewish girlfriend is pregnant, whereby, in his mind, her background seems to be the bigger of the two offenses. Ruthie, who is gay, suffers through her parents “re-education” attempts until she can no longer cope and leaves. Others, like Helena, try very, very hard to fit into the strictures of the church and community only to discover, in her case, deep secrets that nobody wants to bring into the open. Her story, “Killdeer God,” to me is the most powerful story that delves deeper into the inner struggles of the young than most. In general, there is little substantive or honest dialog between the two generations about the concerns and deeper moral or ethical questions and only a few times do we receive indications that change in the rigid positioning may be on its way.

Nevertheless, I felt that I was being pleasantly passed on from one member in the community to another, being introduced to each personal story. Some characters reappear in one or the other story in the collection adding to the overall impression that these brief family portraits come together as a tapestry of a particular community at an important transition period. Westerhof may want us to discover Poplar Grove as a prism through which to view the wider ranging concerns and problems faced by society as a whole, especially in remoter rural regions. In that sense it is less surprising that so many challenges befall this small community.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Brindle & Glass (March 15, 2011)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Patricia Westerhof
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another good book from this publisher:

A Matter of Sylvie by Lee Kvern


March 16, 2011 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: Canada, Family Matters, Short Stories

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