Strong Hollow by Linda Little (Goose Lane Editions, 280p, $19.95, ISBN: 0864923082). Jeeter Lester of Tobacco Road would feel right at home in Strong Hollow, a backwoods Nova Scotia hole where booze, cigarettes, sex, and avoidance of work and birth control are life's priorities. But rather than just being another novel about low-lifes, Little asks a profound question¨what happens when a sensitive soul is born into a life of ignorance and repression? The sensitive soul belongs to Jackson Bigney, the seventh of ten children, singled out for ridicule and beatings by his father because he is not a brawling neanderthal. Jackson is painfully shy, stutters, cannot eat in front of other people. He has a talent for whittling, but after his father's death he becomes a bootlegger and drinks away his profits. He is nearly thirty when he discovers he is gay and has his heart broken when his lover abandons him to move to Toronto.
Almost by accident he discovers a talent for making fiddles, and as more and more of his large, wild family return to the farm and encroach on his privacy, he makes a monumental effort to stop drinking. Although he remains crude and unwashed, Jackson engenders sympathy simply by trying to accomplish something. He is still taking baby steps as the novel ends, but he is progressing and may ultimately find some sort of happiness. Beautifully written, the novel demonstrates how courage can overcome DNA.
Love in the Age of Confusion by Byron Ayanoglu (DC Books, 250p, no price stated, ISBN: 0919688888). This is a humorous semi-political romp by a Montreal playwright and food critic. I suspect this started out as a play as lengthy passages of dialogue sometimes stand on their own and added description seems just that¨added. The plot is about star-crossed lovers, Ari and Arletty. Ari is the son of a billionaire Anglo, regarded as a robber-baron by Arletty's middle class, rabidly separatist French father. Both of the young people are immature. Ari makes a film with money his mother has purloined from his father, while Arletty, not an actress, is nevertheless given a pivotal role in the film. The plot complication is that Arletty becomes pregnant and plans to flee to India to have her baby. The parents step in and there is talk of them taking custody of the baby. The fathers, at complete political odds, have to compromise and work together for the sake of their grandchild. The rhetoric of the Two Solitudes is engagingly presented. There are many humorous scenes and much mouthwatering food. The ending is too easy, with the young couple attaining an unrealistic maturity. Still, Ayanoglu tells a light, entertaining story. The binding is of very poor quality; the book fell apart while I was reading it. ˛