The narrator of Don Dickinson's second novel, Robbiestime (HarperFlamingo, 325 pages, $32 cloth, ISBN: 000225509X), is Robbie Hendershot, an eleven-year-old living in Saskatchewan circa 1958, ˘afterthewar÷, and on the verge of revelation. His father had been a Lancaster tail-gunner, his mother a homesick British war bride. Robbie's big mystery is why his parents fight.
Dickinson mimics the gushing mode of a child's expression by omitting the punctuation that normally pauses sentences. While the run-on lists at times disrupt the narrative flow, Dickinson has a true flair for capturing the unbounded creativity of juvenile imagination, as illustrated by Robbie's explanation that his Grandfather is present, even when absent, in the ˘smell fingers÷ of cigar smoke that emanate from his jacket.
Robbiestime is as much about the awakening of any young mind to the complex dynamics of family and social relationships, as it is about the day-by-day events that compose Robbie's life. Dickinson unobtrusively weaves his plot without overstepping the limitations of an eleven-year-old's ability to objectively assess the cause-and-effect of these events. With subtlety, Dickinson takes Robbie from the innocence of childhood fantasy through a critical evaluation of institutionalized religion's technicalities to an eventual abandoning of his belief in God. After his crisis of faith, occasioned by the death of his close friend, it is to that friend's mother, the local writer, that he turns for comfort, as it is through story, not religion, that Robbie will come to an understanding of life's complexity.
As the conflict between his parents is the boy's primary concern, it is disappointing that his reaction to the outcome of that conflict is not given more attention, particularly as it follows the devastating events involving his grandfather. When Dickinson presents the solution to ˘the mystery÷ that has puzzled Robbie and his older sister, Stephie, but neglects to investigate its ramifications, the summation seems simplistic. The answer is an intriguing mystery in itself and one that could only lead such inquisitive characters as Robbie and Stephie to ponder even more profound questions about their parents' relationship.
Robbiestime presents an engaging family of memorable characters. We feel such affection for Robbie by the novel's rather ambiguous ending that we are left hungering for a sequel. ˛