Eyes in Front When Running by Willow Kean

There’s really nothing quite like a sensitive, tender, sad book about motherhood set in your home region and written in dialect. It brings the philosophical meditations on feminism and parenting into your backyard, being talked about by people you know, over boiled dinners. Sometimes I think we forget that these meditations can happen on our streets, in our regions – not just in novels set somewhere else, with a more glamourous (to us) setting. Eyes in Front When Running is this novel, tying the complicated and messy subject of motherhood with the complicated family situations in a small province. I loved the exploration of this topic in a world that looks much like my own: fierce weather, tucked away on the edge of North America, stuck by the traditional and often conservative mindset of many of our elders.

Cleo and her boyfriend Jamie have been together for five years, living in a downtown house, bickering over how and why they should move. Their friends are having kids, and finally the subject is broached when their friends Andrew and Fran announce that they’re having a baby, only a short time after Fran had an affair. Cleo is skeptical of a saviour baby, and frankly having babies at all, but Jamie wants one and so they decide to try to conceive. And it fails spectacularly, crumbling their relationship, sending Cleo out into a new life she has to try to rebuild – and making a series of terrible, foolish mistakes which result in a far different future than she had ever imagined for herself.

Kean conveys the difficulty around choosing motherhood spectacularly: characters range from ambivalent, to rejecting it, to accepting one course or the other. Infertility is an openly discussed topic in the novel, and central to much of the plotline, from characters going through infertility and miscarriages, Cleo and Jamie not conceiving, and all of the ways parenthood can enter your life. There are so many different threads in this book about parenthood, and I feel like I could spend days picking them apart and analyzing them. A lot of them spoke to me, as a person who has been largely ambivalent to the idea of parenting, and had many of those conversations with friends about what we might really want. Eyes in Front When Running treated all of these painful conversations with such care and thought, and it made for a wonderfully cozy read, even when the story itself was challenging.

One of the ways I like to describe books that I really liked is “heartbreaking in exactly the right way.” Eyes in Front When Running by Willow Kean is one of those. My heart had that ache of reading something so true and real that I couldn’t get away from the feeling for the rest of the day. And if that’s not a recommendation for you, I don’t know what is.

About the Author

Willow Kean is an actor and writer originally from Labrador West. She’s co-written several children’s plays that have toured provincially, and her five-woman comedy Supper Club premiered at the LSPU Hall in 2021. She’s been shortlisted for the Cuffer Prize and longlisted for the NLCU Fresh Fish Award, and she’s won the Percy Janes First Novel Award in 2018. Willow lives in St. John’s with her partner, the filmmaker Justin Simms, and their son, Jude. 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (June 8 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550819755
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819755