Of the ten books reviewed in this month's column, 1998 Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award- and Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction-nominated Beneath That Starry Place
(HarperCollins, 286 pages, $26 cloth) by Terry Jordan is unequivocally the most accomplished in technique and captivating in content.
In order to understand his childhood, narrator Nathan Mann must first examine the lives and personalities of his parents and, more importantly, his grandparents, Eamon (an actor turned con man and crook) and Madeleine (an artist). The book opens and closes with Nathan's visit to Madeleine, his viewing of her work, and his subsequent discovery of the truth she has buried there about a day, long ago when he was seven, at Eamon's lakeside cottage.
What Jordan has created is no ordinary generational saga. It is a non-linear exploration of family and the surprises of identity wherein past, present, and future continually intersect. Jordan slowly builds up the details, creating a mounting tension that keeps the narrative moving at a steady pace.
The writing itself is lyrical in its spareness, brimming with subtlety and implication. Each character is rendered with delicate accuracy. The shimmering line between memory and fact is drawn by a writer with a keen eye for the shifting shades of gray.