Maritime muse

The Heart Does Not Bend by Makeda Silvera (Random House), 264 pages,.


The Heart Does Not

Bend by Makeda Silvera

(Random House), 264 pages, $32.95

cloth. Rating: NNNN

Rating: NNNN


the heart does not bend is an achingly rich, sensuous text describing food in ways that make you taste it and Jamaican flora in ways that let you see the flowers and the coconut palms. And that’s not even the book’s main draw. Its big strength is its delicacy, and the complex way her protagonist, Molly Galloway, bends in response to her grandmother Maria’s whims.

Molly’s family is dealing with the fact that Maria has willed her entire estate to her wayward grandson Vittorio, except for her hope chest, which she leaves to Molly.

The subplots track Molly’s loss of innocence, her evolution into womanhood and romantic involvement with another woman, and the way the family copes with difficult issues.

No apologies are made for the matriarch’s rash temper and emotions. She lets it all hang out — making mistakes, drinking too much, contradicting herself — and yet she manages to do it all with the grace of her favourite movie star, Sophia Loren. As a result, the reader never questions her authority. It is altogether natural that such a woman would exist and in existing deeply affect the lives of her offspring.

Silvera is the co-founder and managing editor of Sister Vision Press, which publishes works by Canadian women of colour.

She has also written two collections of short fiction and edited two other books, including The Other Woman: Women Of Colour In Contemporary Canadian Literature.

Keep an eye on this author, because The Heart Does Not Bend is a refreshingly simple but undeniably intense addition to this country’s literary legacy. Silvera reads at Harbourfront Centre Wednesday (March 6). See Readings, this page. EMILY POHL-WEARY Write Books at susanc@nowtoronto.com

HEAVE by Christy Ann Conlin (Doubleday), 322 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN

last year’s giller-nominatedbooks — most of them period pieces unfolding in remote areas of Canada — made it look like there aren’t a lot of authors in this country willing to write in the present tense.What a relief to read Heave, a debut novel by Christy Ann Conlin about being young and drunk Down East.

It opens with Serrie running away from the altar in her wedding dress, and then looks back on what brought her to this crisis.

After growing up smart but increasingly alienated in small-town Nova Scotia, a stint at Dalhousie fails to improve her mood. Neither do the blackouts, courtesy of whatever Serrie’s drinking.

A trip to London, England, adds drugs to her list of addictions, forcing her into rehab and self-reflection. She eventually takes a job, but that gets her into the kind of trouble that sends her running across her hometown in a wedding dress.

Conlin has a gift for evoking a strong sense of place — the smell of the lupins, the comforting sight of the battered boats in the harbour, the happy-go-lucky Dal students whose mega-motivation mystifies Serrie.

And Conlin’s characters really come through, especially Serrie’s embittered mother, Martha, whose dream of being a painter dies while her husband, Cyril, collects outhouses, and aunt Gallie, who has opinions on how everyone should live their lives even though her own son won’t talk to her. Family, the way it feeds and fucks up its members, is a key theme here.

Heave’s portrayal of alcoholism is very powerful, so real it’s a cinch that Conlin comes by her insights through personal experience — in which case you have to wonder whether there’s another book inside her.

But for the time being, that doesn’t matter. This one’s really good.

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