The Winter Helen Dropped By

by W. P. Kinsella,
256 pages,
ISBN: 0002243806

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Virginia Beaton

"EVERY STORY," SAID Daddy, "is about sex or death, or sometimes both."

That's the kickoff of W.P. Kinsella's latest novel, The Winter Helen Dropped By (HarperCollins, 186 pages, $26 cloth. Kinsella delivers not only the sex and death, but their companion events; births, weddings, funerals, fireworks, and community picnics.

The story is set in Six Towns, Alberta, where eleven-year-old Jamie O'Day and his parents are struggling through the Depression. Helen, a pregnant young Indian woman is storm-stayed with them during what is described as a "freeze-the-balls-off-a-brass-monkey Alberta blizzard." As soon as the weather clears, she's off, only to make a brief appearance close to the end of the book.

Other seasons are recounted; the summer of the fireworks at the town picnic, the summer Jamie nearly drowned. What Kinsella is focusing on is the way that time is measured in small towns, with special reference to events, especially disasters.

There are some moments of sadness and nostalgia, but the cast of rural eccentrics makes for more humour than sorrow. There is Brother Bickerstaff, the bible-thumping preacher, three-hundred-pound Slow Andy McMahon, and the flaky Loretta Cake, who dresses like Sheena Queen of the Jungle and tows eight cat on leashes. The Winter Helen Dropped By has the comforting familiarity of hearing the old-timers in town wrangling in the local barbershop.


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