Sleepers and Ties by Gail Kirkpatrick

Poor Margaret. Shortly after her mother has passed away, her sister Shirley dies. Somewhat reluctantly, but dutifully, she leaves her Vancouver home to travel back to her family’s former Saskatchewan home, Plover Station, to take care of her sister’s ashes and settle her estate.

Sleepers and Ties commences with Margaret walking the abandoned rail lines near where the train station once stood that her father operated. She reminisces:

Ahead of me, the white cross-tie marks the former stop of Plover Station. I knew what to expect. The disappearance of small railway towns is forgotten news, and it matters naught to me. Two decades ago, Shirley showed me videos of the dynamiting of the last grain elevator, and my friend, Massy, had sent a letter when Plover's railway station was jacked up and hauled away to be re-imagined as a cottage, it was rumoured.
I close my eyes and try to recreate the station from my childhood experience of it, as well as my memory pictures. The enclosing caragana hedge, semaphore saluting over the platform; rain barrel overflowing beside the front door, waiting room separated from the office by a customer counter, the dit-dah of the Morris code, the portrait of the Queen on one side, family rooms after, freight shed beyond, and coal bin somewhere there too. Gone now are the four company grain elevators, Pool, Searle, National, and Home-prairie skyscrapers of the 20th century. Gone, the station, Mother's garden, and Adam's section house. All gone.

Margaret’s next stop is the lawyer’s office and the dialogue that Ms. Kirkpatrick has written shows how wary Margaret is of lawyers and the need to quickly finish up things, sign the papers, leave the cheque for services rendered and leave.

I suppose the relationship between client and lawyer, as in doctor and patient, should be one of trust, but I keep up my guard, even perhaps, though I don't know exactly why, decide that I will dislike him.

The lawyer drops a bombshell on Margaret: Shirley has left her a letter and 8 million dollars. Margaret is in disbelief, as she had no idea Shirley had much of anything at all. Apparently, neither did her sister until recently when she discovered some investments she made decades ago really paid off. Shirley says in the letter that “For the last few years, though, I have dreamed of reviving a rail line like the one that Dad believed in. Please, Margaret, I know you will finish what I started.”

Blindsided not only by the money but by this odd request made by Shirley, Margaret begins a quest to discover just what is involved in starting up a short connector line for the local grain farmers to get their produce to market. Her quick visit to Plover Station is going to take much more time than she anticipated and in staying on, she connects with, among others, her childhood friend Massy, Adam, the former rail employee who knows everything about trains, and the mysterious (and handsome) ornithologist who wanders the area around Plover Lake doing research.

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Each of these relationships brings back memories and opens old wounds, particularly with Massy whose late husband Stan was responsible for burning down Plover Station’s hotel, thereby making the station redundant and, by extension, her parent’s livelihood. There exists animosity between the families on both sides, but Massy and Margaret have managed to retain a friendship throughout the years.

What I enjoyed about Sleepers and Ties was its pacing, and Margaret’s introspections on life from a 50-ish mother, wife and sister. Unexpectedly, the book is not so much about trains as it is about going back home, the rediscovery of self, and rebuilding (or repurposing) friendships and community in modern times. An excellent debut novel and certainly one of the better books I have read in 2022.

(Note: the review is based on an advance reading copy (ARC) supplied by Now or Never Publishing. Sleepers and Ties is due to be published on April 15, 2023. )

About the Author

After receiving her undergrad at the University of Victoria, Gail Kirkpatrick completed her MA in writing at Lancaster University in the UK where she explored the parallel and converging lines of memory, shared history, and landscape. Her writing has been published in various literary and trade magazines in Canada and the UK, and Sleepers and Ties is her first novel. She currently resides in Victoria, BC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Now Or Never Publishing Co (April 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 220 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989689469
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989689462

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