Not too many pages into making A Stone Of The Heart you realize that you're in the middle of a major experiment. The story unfolds in short episodes from different characters' points of view -- backwards. We've seen the latter trick in the movies, most memorably in last year's Memento, but not with this kind of emotional charge.
Vancouver author Cynthia Flood creates vivid characters filled with yearning and regret -- bad-boy Owen, who can't maintain a job or a personal connection; fat girl Dora, who lives a double life; her best friend, the pretty one, Marjo, who betrays her, if only once; Jonathan, a doctor with a conscience; Mary, Dora's unloved daughter.
We first see Dora and Owen in the nursing home where they spend their last days, defanged and depressed. Working backwards, Flood takes us to the time when they were at the peak of their powers, and back further to their childhoods.
In the process, she gives us a crash course in the Vancouver that was newly energized by the union movement in the 30s and that brought women into the workforce during the second world war. The period detail here is impeccable.
The stone of the title acts as a central metaphor, referring sometimes elliptically to stony silences and hearts of stone, and then literally to the calcified fetus Dora's body refuses to release over decades.
Mostly, the book is about pain and how we deal with it, how we deny it when it's there and hold it when we really don't need to.
Flood reads at Another Story today (Thursday, May 30). See listings, this page.
making a STONE OF THE HEART by Cynthia Flood (Key Porter), 338 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNN