In the Wake by Nicola Davison

Update 03/09/19: In the Wake has won “The Very Best!” Book Award for Best First Book (Fiction) for 2019!

There must be something in the water in Nova Scotia. Literally. Here is an absorbing debut novel by Nicola Davison, a Dartmouth resident who mentored under no less a personage than that wonderful novelist Carol Bruneau, another Nova Scotian writer that you may have heard of. In the Wake is a novel that contains a mild, but ever-present strain of suspense and an undertone of distrust amongst its protagonists, which makes for the type of novel that keeps you reading until the final page.

In the Wake contains themes of distrust, living with a mental illness and coping with ghosts from the past.

In the Wake begins with an apt quote by George Eliot: “What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” As I mentioned above, distrust is one of the common themes Ms. Davison deftly uses to keep marriage mates Daniel and Emily at odds after they move back to Nova Scotia with their little son Ryan after living a number of years out west.

Ryan dips the toe of his boot in the water. She watches him while listening to the crash of the waves, the bass of it vibrating her bones and the salt working its way into the back of her throat. She thirsted for it, the years they’d spent inland, the smell, the sound, the constant movement of the water. The closest thing was the fields of grass swaying with wind under the big sky, but it didn’t have this pull.

Emily, in her loneliness, spends time with Tom, the son of Linda, a widow who lives next door. Tom, in his twenties, suffers from a severe mental illness that causes him to completely lose touch with his immediate reality at times, so much so that he cannot recall what happened to him. Otherwise, he is a wonderful young man, who is kind, thoughtful and good with children, and immediately bonds with Ryan (who calls Tom “The Rocket Man”). However, Daniel is not keen on Tom being around children or Emily, and this leads to distrust. In the following condensed excerpt, Emily and Ryan are picking up Daniel from the airport after spending the previous day with Tom at a nearby lake.

"We were at the lake yesterday--- " she starts.
"Tom put my head under water!" [Ryan says to his father]
Daniel's head snaps in her direction. She keeps her eyes on the road ahead; cars are merging from the left.
"He had you look underwater with the mask," she corrects, catching Ryan's eye in the mirror. He was really good with him."
"That's great, buddy." It's quite a trick, Daniel makes it sound enthusiastic for Ryan while conveying the opposite to her with his posture.
The drive home is a pot coming to a slow boil.

The theme of mental illness is powerful. Not only Tom’s which is obvious, but Emily’s past bout with Post-partum Depression puts her in a sympathetic position. Too, there are Tom’s father’s past dealings with verbal and physical abuse which spilled over into Tom’s formative years before his father (Martin) passed away. The ghost of Martin, literally (?) and figuratively haunts the house and beach area of the odd, fully window-fronted, open-concept house that Emily and Daniel bought. Are the house and their marriage strong enough to withstand the coming storm that threatens to crumble both in its wake?

An impressive debut novel that will not disappoint any reader of good, well-written fiction.

Nicola Davison studied English at Dalhousie University and serves as a board member with the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. In 2016, she completed the Alistair Macleod Mentorship program (under the guidance of Carol Bruneau) through the WFNS. To learn more about Nicola, there’s a good interview with her at the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia website here:

In the Wake by Nicola Davison
Vagrant Press (an imprint of Nimbus Publishing)

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.