In her debut novel, Watershed, Doreen Vanderstoop envisions a future in which water, a life-giving resource that we take for granted, is not easily obtainable. Indeed, in Alberta in the year 2058, water is being rationed and the government’s scheme for water distribution to the province’s parched southern region is a subject of debate and controversy and even sparks a violent response from a terrorist group determined to preserve Northern Alberta’s water supply.
The main action of Watershed centres on the Van Bruggen goat farm, located near the southern town of Fort MacLeod. Willa Van Bruggen inherited the farm from her father and feels a primal connection to the land that is shared by her husband Calvin. But this is not the case for their son Daniel, who left the farm to study and as the novel begins has accepted a position as hydrologist with a crown corporation called Crystel. Crystel has been contracted to adapt the pipelines left over from the days of big oil for the purpose of moving water, and also to extend the lines south. But the project is plagued by a lack of trust. People in the north suspect the water distribution scheme is a ruse, and that Crystel’s real objective is to push the pipeline across the US border and sell water to thirsty Americans at enormous profit, leaving the northern supplies depleted.
Vanderstoop’s dystopian future is alarming but similar to the present day in which violent conflict can erupt over scarce natural resources. Thankfully, she doesn’t focus solely on the politics.
Willa and Calvin’s dedication to the farm and their struggle to keep it going against mounting odds is the novel’s primary focus, though most readers will recognize early on that it’s a losing proposition. Willa Van Bruggen’s stubborn commitment to the farming life, which is all she knows, seems misguided—driven more by nostalgia than practical considerations—but she remains a character for whom the reader feels great empathy as, in addition to the financial squeeze, she faces a serious health issue, a rift in her relationship with Daniel, and the death of a close friend.
In the end, Watershed is a suspenseful, thought-provoking, layered and emotionally potent novel informed by science and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. But it is also written with the human element front and centre, which encourages us to reflect upon the value of honest human striving, knowing when to pack it in, and caring for one another and the things that matter most.
In addition, and perhaps most indelibly, Doreen Vanderstoop builds her successful first novel around a vision of the future that is frightening and disturbingly plausible.
Doreen Vanderstoop is a Calgary-based writer, storyteller and musician. Her short fiction has been published by Loft on Eighth and Prairie Fire and has appeared online at Montreal Serai, Prairie Journal, Epiphany Magazine and others. As a storyteller/musician, she intersperses songs among tales of all genres, including her own original stories. Doreen performs for audiences of all ages at schools, libraries, festivals, conferences and more. She leads workshops to ignite in others a passion for the power of story, oral and written. Watershed is Doreen’s debut novel.
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