In his debut novel, Somewhere There’s Music, Sean Bedell has delivered a searing gut-punch of a coming-of-age story. This is 1990s Amherst, Nova Scotia, a working-class town of about 9,000 inhabitants situated near the New Brunswick border. Teenage Joel Carruthers lives at home with his parents, Roger and Gloria, and older brother David. Joel is smart and responsible, a bit socially awkward but starting to come into himself. He loves books and music. He gets good marks in high school and has a part-time job at a bookstore. He seems to have everything he needs. But the Carruthers household is anything but happy.
Roger is a paramedic, a first responder scarred by traumatic experience who suffers from an extreme case of undiagnosed PTSD. When he drinks—which is frequently—he is prone to violent outbursts, and more often than not Gloria is the target of his rage. Day after day, with minor variations, a familiar pattern of events unfolds: Roger gets drunk while listening to Charlie Parker records, beats up on Gloria, and the boys rush to her defence.
In quieter moments Joel and David tell their mother she has to leave Roger before he kills her. But Gloria won’t listen. Instead, in a manner not uncommon among domestic abuse victims, she pretends all is well, makes excuses, insists he’s just going through a bad patch, he doesn’t mean it, all of this will pass. The brutality and mayhem are too much for David, who has declared to Joel and close friends that at the first opportunity he’s leaving for Boston, where he’ll bunk with folks he knows and get a job.
Then, one night, after an explosive and terrifying episode, David knocks his father to the floor, grabs a few things from his room, and takes off. Joel, still something of an innocent, believes David will return after he’s done blowing off steam. But this doesn’t happen. And before Joel has a chance to catch his breath, his life has spiralled in tragic fashion and in ways he could never have anticipated, and he finds himself completely on his own trying to cope. With his parents out of the picture, Joel’s brother becomes the focus of his hopes for his family and his future, and he sets out on a well-intentioned if an ill-conceived campaign to find David and bring him home.
Bedell’s prose is not fancy, but it gets the job done, and by the end of the book we’re deeply invested in Joel’s plight, rooting for him to accept the help being offered by the community, carry on with his studies, and make something of himself.
Somewhere There’s Music is not an easy read. Sean Bedell does not sugar-coat the gruesome particulars of domestic abuse, and Roger’s attacks on his wife are often graphic and disturbing. But as unpleasant as these scenes are, they generate enormous tension and infuse the book with a sort of gripping authenticity that makes it almost impossible to put down.
In his first novel, Sean Bedell, who worked as a paramedic for more than a decade, pulls back the curtain on the impact of PTSD on families. What he reveals is harsh and troubling. But in 2022 society can simply not afford to look away.
While he has worked as a paramedic and as a captain with the fire service, Sean Paul Bedell has been writing and publishing for more than 30 years. He lives in Dartmouth with his wife Lisa, and Somewhere There’s Music is his first novel.
- Publisher : Now Or Never Publishing (April 15 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 253 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1989689345
- ISBN-13 : 978-1989689349
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