New Brunswick-born Pamela Molloy’s The Deserters (2018 Véhicule Press) is just about as perfect a story as you can get in under 200 pages. Practically a novella, The Deserters is about Eugenie a woman who inherits her grandmother’s derelict farm in New Brunswick. This is the farm her and her sister Ivy grew up on after they were left orphans by their parent’s death in a car accident. Eugenie is married to Michael, who is in Spain (and is there for most of the story) apprenticing in an ancient craft called marquetry. This is his all-consuming passion, one that he discovered after the death of his brother, who suffered from bipolar disease. There is nothing Spain for Eugenie, so she comes home to New Brunswick to attempt to make a go of the farm. Looking back, she thinks:
That was where it all began to unravel for them, their relationship as precarious as the twists and turns of the impossible mountain road, a ledge etched into the rock, the only road to the town.
However, the farm has been empty for five years, and the house and property need much in the way of repairs. This is where Dean the deserter from the US Army comes in. He crossed the border after coming home on leave, not wanting to go back to Iraq. His best friend Nick was killed and Dean has nightmares, for he suffers from PTSD (although it is never mentioned by name in the book). However, he is a good worker and knows what to do, so Eugenie employs him (at this point she doesn’t know he is a deserter). Dean has been living deep in the woods, a place he ‘disappears’ into every evening after working on the farm. Quickly, a relationship develops (it comes as no surprise to the reader) and Eugenie realizes she has in Dean what she lacks in Michael:
This where she had landed, with one man who could stay with her if he truly wanted; another who couldn’t, but wanted nothing more in the world.
This is the main conflict in The Deserters. Then there is Eugenie’s sister Ivy who turns up pregnant and wants to stay on the farm until the baby is born. How will Dean and Eugenie manage to hide their affair from Ivy? Also, there is Dean’s suffering from PTSD and the fact that he is a deserter from the army. That cannot be hidden so well in a small town. Ms. Molloy has packaged up a lifetime’s worth of complexities in under 200 pages, writing a book that is a marvel of brevity and succinctness. I truly enjoyed the mature voice Ms. Molloy writes in, which made The Deserters all that more of a good thing in small package.
The Deserters by Pamela Molloy
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