Leaning, Leaning Over Water
(Harper Collins, 224 pages, $24 cloth) by Ottawa writer Frances Itani is a series of interlocking coming-of-age stories. It is the fifties, and Jock King has moved his wife and three daughters, Lyd, Trude, and Mimi, to a rural area on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. They feel geographically and culturally isolated, almost as if he had moved them to a foreign country.
Itani chronicles the most significant events in the life of the King family-namely, those critical moments when the kaleidescope is shaken and the pieces, though the same, are reconfigured into a new pattern. In graceful, unadorned prose, she traces the sisters' journey from girlhood to womanhood, their eventual recognition that despite their many shared family experiences, they are not alike, that they perceive and remember events differently. As Trude observes of Lyd: "I was glad that we were friends and that I loved her as much as I did, but I knew that I would never be like her and settle for the same things."
Itani employs a number of linking devices in this book, which is subtitled "A Novel in Ten Stories": Trude narrates most of the pieces and the Ottawa River (the water of the title) flows through all of them. Yet, Leaning, Leaning Over Water remains a collection of separate stories. And, as has been demonstrated by other story collections marching under the novel banner, related stories do not necessarily a novel make. There is too little of the narrative momentum a novel requires. Nonetheless, there is fine writing here, and the book overall is well worth reading.