COVENTRY by Helen Humphreys (HarperCollins), 192 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Reading a novel by Helen Humphreys is a unique experience. She always grabs your imagination on the first page, and in the relatively slim Coventry, you're on the last page before you know it.
The novel tracks Harriet, widowed during the First World War, as the Nazis are bombing the English town of the title. She's trying to survive alongside the young Jeremy, who, like Harriet, is standing watch as part of their neighbourhood organization.
He's someone she's met randomly but to whom she has a past connection. Neither of them knows that, and our hope that they will discover their relationship is one of the key ingredients that makes us keep turning the pages.
Those are the bare bones of the story to which Humphreys's immense craft gives depth. Each sentence is clear and terribly precise. She offers vivid images with efficiency, conveying huge emotions but never in ways you could call overwrought. Many times I'd stop after a sentence and think, "Wow."
At the same time, Humphreys knows how to be subtle. She has a way of giving a hint of longing that feels completely authentic and, despite the carnage, completely apt.
I wish it were longer. Not that it needs to be in order to be effective. But when something's this good, who doesn't want more?
Humphreys reads Wednesday, (October 29), 8 pm, at the Lakeside Terrace, preceded by an excerpt from Wild Dogs, the new Nightwood production based on her book of the same name.