Evening Snow Bring Such Peace

by David Adams Richards,
ISBN: 077107462X

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Dignity Intact
by Marni Jackson

THIS IS THE SECOND book of a trilogy that began with Nights Below Station Street, a novel of spellbinding clarity and feeling that won the 1988 Governor General`s Award. Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace returns to the same turf, a mill town in northern New Brunswick, where everything anyone does has a ripple effect. David Adams Richards is such a good, blunt writer he often seems to have no style whatsoever -- he gives LIS the voices of his characters and their complicated, fate- burdened lives intact, like someone delivering a nicely split load of birch. Once the fire gets going, you don`t think about who cut the wood, You just enjoy the warmth. However, I was a long way into Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace before I managed to stop consuming the words and began to connect with the scenes instead. Without a fresh memory of Nights Below Station Street, the tangle of intricate relationships between neighbours, friends, and families IS difficuIt to unravel, especially given the author`s partisan, taciturn refusal to elaborate on his world. In this story of outsiders the reader is pointedly made to feel like the real outsider, the inauthentic one. Ironic and illuminating as it may be to have the tables turned like this, it sometimes works against the charm of the story. In this world, (Ile domestic tiff can upset the chemistry of the whole community. The novel begins when Cindi and Ivan Basterache, who have been married 20 months, have a fight one night. The fight involves money and lvan`s father, Antony. Cinch is a simple-minded girl who suffers from epileptic seizures, and is the object of some local prejudice. Among the families living near them along the river, the big Item all One summer is that Ivan has beaten Cindi, who is also pregnant, and taken off. Richards describes characters unburdened by luck or money or social status, and very nearly inarticulate when it comes to emotion -- who some readers, like tourists driving through a tiny, nondescript town, might not think to stop for. Ivan, for instance, seems an unpromising hero: an apparent wife-beater more at home in the woods than with people, Ivan was the kid who was kicked out of the church picnic every year by the local priests. He doesn`t have much to say in his own defence. But Slowly, patiently, Richards turns him into someone we recognize and feel for. We see how his father`s cockeyed love and selfdelusion get Ivan into trouble; the violence in him comes to seem altogether human and inevitable. In this sense the novel functions formally as a tragedy, but there is much subtle hilarity and deadpan fun along the way. Ivan is someone on the outskirts of society who doesn`t understand what put him there: Ivan felt unequal to words and writing, to books and knowledge of that kind, but he had a tremendous respect for it. In such ways, he was left out of life, not because he had to be, but simply because he was. He comes from a long line of outsiders -- his father, whose first wife left and remarried upward, is beset with a bitterness he can`t resolve or understand. Antony sets fires in the woods, and then calls the forestry people to get a job putting them out: He had fit the fire, he believed, because the night before Gordon had ignored him at the Portage Restaurant, and he felt once again outside that circle of events and people he so wished to be included into. Within and without the families in this little town, people have trouble showing love, forgiving each other, or turning their back on family. Nothing unusual in that, except that people with more words at their disposal sometimes imagine they do a better job of it. Fate sits glowering over Richards`s story, like a grey November sky. Ivan "knew he was in a terrible position," Richards writes. "He knew ... he had become a scapegoat in some larger affair that he had no control over, until it ran its course." This pall of destiny threatens to turn sentimental at times. After a blow-out involving his father, his sister, and Vera and Nevin, their neighbours, Ivan takes off into the woods for a few days. He tries to track down a coyote that has been harassing another family, but the coyote gets entangled in the trap and ends up attacking Ivan. Wounded, sick, and vulnerable, Ivan comes back home to his sister, who summons Cindi. In the meantime, Cindi has been somewhat hunted herself: a friend has decided that it is in her best interest to have an abortion. So Cindi and Ivan end up damaged not just by each other, but by the best intentions of those around them. With this, at least, in common, they get back together, and make plans to leave for Ontario and a new life lvan`s father pulls a perverse stunt to keep his son from leaving town through a situation that takes advantage of [van`s soft heart, involving the family horse bogged down in the mud. Like the beast he tries to rescue, Ivan finds himself maddeningly stuck, half free, half trapped in his life. Richards always seems to know what he`s talking about, whether it`s miscarriages, English riding tack, road graders, the consistency of snow, or the behaviour of deerflies. The detail is there, quiet and precise. Richards gives the impression of having walked every mile his characters walk, while at the same time maintaining a ruthless honesty. He does make jokes at their expense, bur he leaves their dignity intact. Sometimes the goings-on are so strange as to be surreal, such as Antony`s obsession with Elvis paintings and pinball machines. The strangeness is part of the uninterrupted music of the novel, which is drily lyrical, like a Celtic ballad. Richards`s story seems to suggest that self-awareness -- or simply getting on with life -- is largely a salvage job. Cindi and Ivan try to salvage their marriage; Antony tries to salvage the wreckage he`s made of his family; Ivan risks his life, and his future, to save a load of lumber and the family nag; Vera and Nevin lose their furniture in one of Antony`s fires, but save their house. All this calls on the sort of ordinary courage that requires a special witness, like fiction. As for Cindi, the poor simpleton everyone felt sorry for she does very well for herself in the end

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