Wait Softly Brother by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

There’s more than a little bit of everything in Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s Giller-nominated novel, Wait Softly Brother. Fiction. History. Auto-fiction. Time travel. The U.S. Civil War. Ecological crisis. Cranky aging parents. Divorce. And the big hole in the middle, the author/narrator’s stillborn brother, whom she feels compelled to seek.

What we have here is a novel full of all the broken things. The narrator is fine to leave many of them broken, her marriage, for example. But she is a writer, and her head is full of fragments of stories that won’t let go of her. At the beginning of the book, she has left the marital home and retreated to her octogenarian parents’ place in the country north of Belleville, Ontario, the old family plot, where she spent her childhood.

Ah, childhood. Land of unresolved mysteries. Kathryn (both author and narrator are named Kathryn) is surrounded by them. Her parents, who hold the keys to many of them, aren’t interested in helping. Repeatedly, they suggest she return to her marriage. They try to distract her with old family artifacts, notably old letters from an early ancestor, a Russell Boyt, a 19th-century medical student in Toronto who became a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War.

Kathryn starts to write Boyt’s story, making up what can’t be confirmed by research, and she starts to feel that the resolution of Boyt’s narrative is somehow connected to the mystery of her stillborn brother, Wulf. For a large part of the book, the chapters alternate between Boyt’s story and Kathryn’s quest-in-the-woods. The old homestead is not well situated in terms of the water table, and the basement soon floods. Water of biblical proportions seeps in everywhere. Noah is evoked.

Boyt’s war is one catastrophe after another, as Kathryn and her parents wait to be rescued from the floodwaters. Destruction and end-time scenarios loom. In the end, the stories do kind of merge, and the swirling chaos lifts enough to give hope for another day. Kuitenbouwer has written a substantial, complicated novel that churns to a remarkable and piercing finish. Award-worthy for sure.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the bestselling author of the novels All the Broken ThingsPerfecting and The Nettle Spinner. She is also the author of the story collection, Way Up. Her work has appeared in GrantaThe WalrusMaclean’sThe Lifted Brow, Significant Objects, Storyville and others. Kathryn teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Buckrider Books (May 23 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 242 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989496660
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989496664