HEAVE by Christy Ann Conlin (Doubleday), 322 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
last year's giller-nominated
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 the events that 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.