Jeannette Lynes’ new book about The Small Things That End the World (2018, Coteau Books) begins with two BIG things: Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In between these two monumental storms plenty of “little things” happen to the three main protagonists, Sadie Wilder, Faith Crouch and her daughter Amber. Three generations of women who pluckily face what life serves them up, from Toronto to Thunder Bay to New Orleans, from a tumbledown farm north of Toronto to a strip club to a senior’s care home. It is all written in Ms. Lynes’ semi-serious, animated style that she employed in The Factory Voice, her 2009 novel (which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize).
The story starts in 1954 on the eve of Hurrican Hazel’s arrival in Toronto, a city unprepared for such a storm, for it is a rarity for tropical storms to track so far north and inland. In her book Hurricane Hazel, journalist Betty Kennedy argued that in Canada, the impressions that Hazel was “the best-kept secret in town” and that it was a “fully documented meteorological event that should have taken nobody by surprise” both “paradoxically […] contain a great deal of truth”. On that fateful evening, a fourteen-year-old Sadie Wilder gets called for babysitting duty by the wealthy Bannisters, whose regular sitter, Wanda, has the mumps. (This is one of the “small things” that happen in the first chapter, along with an airborne fuzz speck that gets caught on a turntable’s stylus, and a dead goldfish.) Each chapter has its own group of “small things” listed at the beginning. How Sadie survives the ensuing flood that practically washes away the Bannister’s home and gets the two children, Faith and Bobby out along with Shuster the dog gets the book off to a dramatic start. Sadie remains stoic through it all and manages to keep a cool head while the world ends.
“The most wretched thought walloped me, spurred by Forrest Bannister’s earlier remark, that the Humber River flowed right behind their house. Prime riverfront property. Nausea surged through me. Bobby had been right, there was someone in the house. The river was in the house.”
Revealing any more of the story will get into spoiler territory, but let me say The Small Things That End the World is a book that all readers will enjoy. The characters are well-developed and the story leaps through the years (twenty years pass between chapter 1 and chapter 2) and has enough vividly written situations to hold the reader’s interest with every page turned. Ms. Lynes could have easily continued the story on, but it ends at an appropriate enough point to be perfectly satisfying. It’s a book I am more than happy to recommend. I’m putting it on my 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction. Five stars for an entertaining and enjoyable read.