by W.P. Kinsella
Treading Water by Anne DeGrace may at one time have been a story collection, but they have been cunningly and effectively joined together to form a delightful novel. Inspired by the British Columbia town of Renata, which was flooded for a B.C. Hydro project, the story begins in 1905 and ends in the present. Each episode advances the story of the town and area, and the characters spring to life; they are like old friends revisited every few years, as we follow, among others, the life of the first baby born in the Bear Creek area, whose name is chosen for the town in the novel. A young woman who has been working for social change in Regina, particularly the Suffragette Movement, comes to Bear Creek to look after her sister who has just lost her twin babies. "Isobel Gray, the young woman, and Ace, Jack Armstrong's new horse, arrived in Bear Creek at the same time." Isobel is anxious to get back to "making a difference," but with a lot of help from the strong-minded Ace, falls in love with Armstrong, the local hotel owner and orchardist, and spends the rest of her days in Bear Creek. Both Ace and Jack are buried near Isobel's home, and in a final show of strength Isobel forces Hydro to cement the graves to protect them from the flood to come. A school teacher, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, finds he has much in common with a nasty teenager who terrorizes him and disrupts his classes. Both of them have lost someone very dear to them. In another tale, the community stands together to defy a toll for use of the Government Wharf. The writing is clear as a bell, the language crisp and clean, the stories often very moving. This a remarkable debut.