Every once in a while, you come across a novel whose characters and stories enfold you into the pages so effortlessly that you find it difficult to extract yourself even after you turn the final page. A Canoer of Shorelines is one of those books.
Set in Nova Scotia, near Kejimkujik National Park (or “Kedge” as it is locally known), A Canoer of Shorelines is about a farmhouse, Meadowbrook Acres, and two women, Rachel Hardy and Julie Martin, who are unknown to each other, but whose lives intersect at Meadowbrook, the so-called “dream house” because of the dreams both women had whilst living there. Dreams, the need for acceptance and a sense of home are themes that permeate Canoer.
Meadowbrook Acres is the hereditary home of the Hardy family. Once a working farm, it has now fallen to Rachel’s brother Samuel to maintain. Ironically, as he doesn’t want it to pass out of the Hardy family (even though no other family members are interested in it), he needs to rent it out in order to maintain and keep it. His sister Rachel used to live there, but due to the dreams she had there, she found she had to move out.
Julie is a young schoolteacher who has been teaching in Northern Canada, but now finds herself back home in Nova Scotia after she and her boyfriend Doug split, he leaving for a teaching job in Alberta, and taking Musko, a large black dog with him. Julie misses Musko more than Doug, who is the type of person that blames everyone but himself for his problems. Julie sees that Meadowbrook is available for rent, and as it was a house she was familiar with from growing up in the region, she wants to live there. She takes on substitute teaching work to pay the bills, particularly the oil bills for heating the draughty old farmhouse. She is soon befriended by Laila, who, it turns out, is Rachel Hardy’s best friend.
However, Rachel has been missing from the area for some time. She was living in a rustic cabin (“Wasaya”) with her dogs on a small island but appears to have left that abode as well. The stories of Rachel and the Hardy family as well as her sympathies for Samuel who so desperately wants to keep his family home intrigue Julie to the point of distraction, and the dreams she has in the house draw her ever further into the quest to find out where Rachel went and why.
"The dreams are growing, mutating into horror. The bittersweet dreams that pull at the heart are giving way to darker dreams, nightmares that cling to the skin when you awaken."
Ms. Smith-Nochasek’s writing style reminded me of another Nova Scotian, Carol Bruneau, as well as the lesser-known, but just as exceptional a writer, Dian Day. Here are a few samples:
Mid-August rains were wetter, colder, and darker. They robbed you of the last dazzling bike rides and the last ice creams at the beach.
A lone axe rings hollow and lonely across the campground. Laughter over breakfast hangs in the dark air; intrusive. Grey winds flip the leaves. The boughs swing, damp and distant, and you try to call your summer back but it is gone.
Laila carries other's burdens. She carries your hard things without burdening you with hers.
"The age of phrophecy closed before the time of the Maccabees," she [Rachel] continues. "So all your dreams are just that. Dreams. Imaginings. You can't dream the future into reality."
Written from two perspectives, the first-person journals of Rachel and the third-person story of Julie, Canoer drew me in as so few novels do these days. The characters of Julie, Rachel and Laila are well-defined and exist separately as well as interactively within themselves and with other lesser actors in the narrative. Male characters are less defined, and are, interestingly enough, defined through Julie in her dreams and imaginings and Rachel through her journals.
I highly recommend A Canoer of Shorelines. It is well-written novels like this that fly under the radar and we at The Miramichi Reader love to bring them to the forefront of CanLit.