What happens when we die? What haunts us after death?
Brooke Lockyer explores these universal questions with brilliant capability in her promising debut novel Burr. Expertly told primarily through the lens of a young thirteen-year-old girl, Jane, who has just lost her beloved father and is unable to process her grief in any conventional way. Fascinated with the macabre, she becomes obsessed with the idea that her father is not really dead, not in any way others might think. In her imagination, he simply lives on another plane of existence, and she sees him everywhere. I buried my own father this year, so the following quote resonated deeply with me, as I’m sure they will with other readers who have had the misfortune of losing someone close to them.
“I knew Dad was dead, but I kept seeing him alive. I scanned the reception and found him broken into pieces and thrown about the room. I spotted his salt-and-pepper hair perched on another man’s head, his confident stride setting a stranger’s body into motion, his quick smile on unfamiliar lips.”
With a child’s curiosity and an absolute love of the fantastical, Lockyer’s little protagonist gives us a new world view and makes us question the odd, sometimes unhelpful things we say to comfort others in their grief. Words like “They’re in a better place, God needed them, They’re in your heart…” Concepts that are difficult to comprehend, especially for a child.
“He’s in my heart… I imagine my heart with Dad shrunk inside of it. Was he running his hands along the chamber walls as we spoke? Feeling the ventricles for signs of vulnerability, double checking the valves? Scouring plaque from my arteries, breathing into my blood?”
What first attracted me to Lockyer’s novel was the overall Gothic vibe and surrealism reminiscent of Neil Gaiman in all the characters, with Meredith, Jane’s mother. She too, feels the pain of loss, yet seems to have a much harder time holding on to reality than her young daughter. Meredith’s fragile psyche has invented in her mind a beautiful forest, a living breathing canopy of leaves to shield her from her grief. a soft place in which to take comfort in and hide from the loss of her husband.
Again, in the character of Ernest, the author teaches us a little bit about ourselves, how we still harbour prejudices about mental illness and the unknown. Without the jadedness of an adult, Jane befriends this strange man the town has written off as a lunatic. With the innocence of a child, yet with the wisdom of an adult, Ernest helps Jane overcome her grief and in turn, lets go of his own guilt in the death of his sister, Evelyn.
In the end, Lockyer frees her characters, and most importantly her readers, from the grief and shame we sometimes feel when someone we love dies.
“It’s okay,” she whispers through the static. “You can stop saying sorry.”
About the Author
Brooke Lockyer holds a BA from Barnard College and an MA in English in the field of creative writing from the University of Toronto. She was the winner of the 2009 Hart House Literary Contest and a co-recipient of both the Peter S. Prescott and the Lenore Marshall Barnard prizes for prose. Her work has been published in Toronto Life, carte blanche, the Hart House Review, White Wall Review and Geist. She’s lived in rural Japan, New York City, Bristol and the Mojave Desert. Lockyer currently resides with her family in Toronto, ON.
- Publisher : Nightwood Editions (April 29 2023)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0889714428
- ISBN-13 : 978-0889714427
Lori Green is a Canadian writer who has been writing poetry, horror, and dark fiction since she first picked up a pen. Her work has been accepted in various publications including Blank Spaces Magazine, Ghost Orchid Press, Dark Rose Press, Black Hare Press, and more. She studied English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and now lives along the shores of Lake Huron. She is currently working on several short stories and writing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @LoriG1408.