The Projectionist

by Michael Helm,
299 pages,
ISBN: 1550542591

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First Novels - Three Small Towns
by Eva Tihanyi

Much more intimate in its approach is Michael Thoma's accomplished debut, Gibson's Landing (Terra Bella Publishers, 306 pages, $14.95 trade paperback). This is not only the author's first foray into fiction, but his publisher's as well-and it bodes well for both.

Gibson's Landing is set in the B.C. town of the same name, and is essentially a triptych, three related yet separate parts that together form a unified whole. In Part One, a young man, Webster O'Connor, moves to Gibson's Landing with his girlfriend, Lily, who has just been released from a rehab centre. He plans to open a bookstore, escape the jaded, ultimately unsatisfying urban lifestyle they had succumbed to in Vancouver. He hopes that Lily, too, will be happier; that her coke-snorting will not resume. Also, as an adopted child who has already discovered the identity of his real mother, he is on a quest to find out who his real father was.

Webster's dream starts to crumble when the "busy-ness" of renovating the bookstore site ends, and the daily routine of operating a bookstore begins. Soon Lily is bored, and Webster's life is about to take a different course than he expected.

Part Two focuses on Dr. Henry Holley, his wife Mary, and his mistress Baljeet, a nurse at the hospital where he had worked till retirement. His dream for years has been to voyage out on a solo journey in his beloved sailboat, but he is now too ill to do so. Instead, he sits permanently capsized on his estate-the finest in Gibson's Landing-and reflects on his life, including the suicide of his only son David.

Petra, Dr. Holley's adopted granddaughter, is the focus of Part Three. Dissatisfied with her superficial relationship with her bland boyfriend, she finds herself attracted to Webster, one of the gardeners who tends her grandparents' property. He, too, is drawn to her, his dreams of settling and belonging once again rekindled.

Although the ending strains credibility somewhat (too many threads too conveniently intertwined), Thoma, a Vancouver screenwriter, weaves his three narrative strands together with ease and an unwavering compassion for his characters. The result is a novel well worth reading, not just for its words but what it says with them.


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