Some People’s Children* is Bridget Canning’s second novel, and effectively debunks the myth of the ‘sophomore slump.’ The novel follows Imogene Tubbs as she navigates the difficulties of life as a teenage girl living in rural Newfoundland.
Imogene has been raised by her Nan and has a complicated and at times tense relationship with her mother, Maggie. She has never met her father, and his identity forms the central mystery that drives the plot. Questions and rumours surrounding her paternity dredge up gossip and torment from her peers, and create a deep sense of insecurity and often self-loathing in Imogene. As she travels between her small community of St. Felix’s and the comparatively urban St. John’s, Imogene muses about what her life could have been, or perhaps should have been, and what she would like for it to be.
Moving between the poles of isolation and intimacy so emblematic of small-town life, Some People’s Children effectively balances a sense of impending dread at the exposition of past secrets with astute and often-times comical reflections on female development and self-discovery.No character is altogether likable or loathsome. Instead, Canning has crafted a crew of complicated people who are realistic in their flaws, routines, and idiosyncrasies. Indeed, Canning writes of Newfoundland without romanticism or sentimentality. Events in the novel unfold between 1974 and 1993, but this is not a nostalgic text. Major events in the province at the time – the cod moratorium, for example – rest deep in the background of the narrative. These historical signposts scaffold an understanding of the social and economic issues in both St. Felix’s and St. John’s, but never overtake Imogene’s narrative.
Canning’s writing is smooth and strong. She is a master of language, comparison, and local dialect. While reading, there were many moments where I had to stop and think about the images being presented. Brief descriptions of certain characters, for example, ask the reader to think about more than mere appearance: “From a distance, her head is a fresh popcorn kernel” or “From a distance, he looks like a bird with its head tucked under its wing, avoiding the light in order to sleep.” Positioning and perspective are key and raise questions for the reader – where is Imogene as she watches those around her? Why is there a lingering sense of isolation and separation that grows stronger as the novel develops? The narrative refuses to lay out these answers or provide easy insight, instead asking readers to commit to the slow unfolding of Imogene’s life. We are witnesses to her growth and watch her develop an understanding of her origins, herself, and her place in the world.
This is not to imply these lingering questions are disruptive; on the contrary, this is what good fiction does. It pulls you in. It makes you ruminate. It forces you to stop and mull things over and to sit in spaces of discomfort and beauty. Good fiction sticks with you after you step away and calls you back, asking to be read again and again.
And I want to go back. While the final chapters of the novel feel a bit rushed, I immediately wanted to return to Imogene’s world – to have Jiggs’ dinner with Nan and Maggie, to drink beer with Liam, Rita, and Jamie, to ponder over Cecil Jesso and his cast of seedy friends. I also want more of Canning’s prose. In short, Some People’s Children is a fantastic sophomore novel, and Canning is a writer to watch.
Some People’s Children is now longlisted for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Best Fiction category.
*This review of Some People’s Children is based on an electronic copy of the final version which was supplied by the publisher.
Some People’s Children by Bridget Canning
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