I’ve been mulling over how to describe Gillian Wigmore’s Night Watch: The Vet Suite. On the surface, it is a collection of short fiction that navigates the lives of rural veterinarians and their loved ones. Yet, the word collection-with the implication of individual stories assembled in one place-doesn’t feel quite right, nor does simplifying the novel’s central force to a focus on the lives of vets. As a slim volume made up of three segments or internal story groupings, I have come to think of Night Watch as a literary triptych that investigates themes of loneliness, rural living, and care (of the non-human and human alike). Each section navigates these experiences from different perspectives and positionings, and every individual story has its own response to the moving through lines of veterinary medicine and its casualties.
This exploration of veterinary medicine at the margins appears in both overt and subtle ways; for example, the first story in the opening section “Love, Ramona” initially holds a tangential connection. As awkward lovers travel through Southern France, it is hot, it is uncomfortable, and it is affecting. It is not, however, a story about a veterinarian. Instead, Wigmore’s opening piece sets the tone for the collection rather than the focus, offering a return to a painful moment, insight into the tension between love and pain, and the intricate dynamics of a rural setting.
Night Watch builds a gradual engagement with the profession-moving veterinary medicine from the narrative sidelines and into the controlled centre. Through it all, Wigmore balances the brute force of the calving season with tender moments between co-workers over a cold cup of tea. Some stories land better than others, and different sections will appeal to different readers in their own way. Personally, I found myself drawn to “Bare Limbs in Summer Heat.” Here, Wigmore adeptly moves between memories of a childhood connection between siblings into a deep sense of loss in adulthood. The parameters of this hurt appear unnameable to the narrator, so much so that she begins to distrust her own memories.
Certain images will linger in the minds of readers long after they set the book aside. In “Kingfishers” Ramona sits in the discomfort of reuniting with an old friend in the wake of a personal loss. As she reflects on how their connection has changed, she recalls a time when they tried to build a fort from an old mattress. Rather than standing as a test of their friendship, the abandoned mattress “stayed in the field and after they’d gone Ramona imagined it white and rimmed with wildflowers, but she once went back to find it during a university break and was disgusted by the moulding broken-down thing exactly where they’d left it.” In these poignant yet sparse descriptions, Wigmore’s talents shine.
However you want to categorize it, Night Watch: The Vet Suite is a good read. Though spare, the stories are rich with intimate detail. The claustrophobia of the vet office is just as palpable as the stink of the barn or the sound of an animal in pain. Each story grouping is unique, but there are aspects that roll into the next and build momentum and perspective as characters navigate the love, loss, struggle, and joy that comes with a career often rooted in self-sacrifice and communal giving. A lovely book to fall into, Night Watch: The Vet Suite can be read in one sitting or savoured slowly, and offers readers a multifaceted escape into the impacts of a profession not often at the centre of literary depiction.
A library branch manager and the daughter of a veterinarian, Gillian Wigmore has published three books of poems: soft geography, winner of the ReLit Award; Dirt of Ages, shortlisted for the George Ryga Award; and Orient . In addition to Night Watch, she has written a novella, Grayling, and Glory, a novel. She lives in Prince George, BC.
- Publisher : Invisible Publishing (Feb. 12 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 152 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1988784581
- ISBN-13 : 978-1988784588
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