Post-World War I, the small town of Newcombe, Ontario, is in danger of dying. Remote and with fewer than 200 inhabitants, its future is spelled out: slow, drawn-out, painful death as a community. A chance meeting between Francis Barrett, an employee of the Canadian National Railway (CNR), and Cal Bannatyne, a major on his way home from the front, leads to an opportunity: getting a railway station to Newcombe, linking it to the rest of Canada, and perhaps keeping it from dying. There’s just a very small problem: Mr. Barrett stated Newcombe would have to have at least 200 inhabitants, which it doesn’t. Somehow, Cal has to come up with 30 extra people to convince the CNR to place the railway station in Newcombe, rather than neighbouring Medhurst, the larger rival of Newcombe. He’s also got to do this in the first couple weeks of his first return home since he left to fight in the war, while dealing with his PTSD. No big deal.
Connection at Newcombe is a short novel, set over the two weeks of Cal and his buddy Jean Guy’s return home from the front, it details the hijinks and plotting taken up by the whole town to convince the CNR that there are enough people in the town to sustain a railway station. It’s a novel driven by relationships as well: the focus of the action is on the cleaning up of the town, but the return home of the boys opens up things left unfinished or unsaid – and more keenly than that, their friend Lukey who enlisted with them, and died in Europe.
One of the standout things about the novel is its attention to the town’s complicated if peaceful relationship with the neighbouring reserve, Waakamig. Much of how this novel was written reminded me a lot of Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery: wartime small town, close and tangled relationships with everyone in the town, reflections on childhood scrapes. However, this novel, being written in here in the 21st century, did not ignore the colonial role of the railway, and it was handled very well, though I found it a little too neat in the end. Overall, however, I thought the complicated feelings all of the characters had about the relationship between the reservation and the town were well done, and certainly not all positive. A key part of this was the conflict Waakamig had internally about supporting Newcombe: is it better to be involved and have some say over something that will happen anyway or be forced off their land once again with zero input?
There’s definitely a lot happening in this novel, with a lot of characters and viewpoints, a lot of old grudges and young love, race, class, and the lingering shadow of World War I, but it never feels rushed or overburdened. An enjoyable read about a plucky little town.
Kayt Burgess’s debut novel Heidegger Stairwell (2012) won the International 3 Day Novel Contest and a finalist for the 2013 ReLit Award for Fiction. She is also a scriptwriter on the best-selling augmented reality app Zombies, Run! and writes stories, poems, plays, and produces work in experimental digital storytelling. She received her Ph.D. from Bath Spa University in 2017. Kayt was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario and lives in Elliot Lake.
- Publisher : Latitude 46 (April 24 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 170 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1988989264
- ISBN-13 : 978-1988989266
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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.