All Times Have Been Modern Elisabeth Harvor (Viking/Penguin), 352 pages, $35 cloth. Rating: NNNN
ELIZABETH HARVOR in a round table Sunday (October 24), 1 pm, Brigantine Room and reading with October 26. See listings page 44 for details.
In her second novel, All Times Have Been Modern, Elisabeth Harvor moves through time and space with the ease of a trapeze artist. It's the 60s, and 13-year-old Kay awaits a curtain call for her school play.
In those few minutes years pass, and she's 20 and working at her parents' studio selling crafts to tourists. It's a seamless transition, this leap into womanhood accomplished with just one sentence.
The first half of Kay's life her bohemian childhood in rural New Brunswick, her early marriage to a Polish émigré architect, travel in Europe, the publication of a slim novel, a home in Ottawa, children and a divorce flies by in a whirlwind in the first few chapters.
She lands in Montreal in the 80s, a sexual innocent with two grown sons, floating through temporary jobs, trying to write, treading water until love comes along. And it does, in the form of a much younger man who provides, as she puts it, an education of the heart and other body parts.
Harvor is a master at evoking intimacy with small details, like Kay's description of "the tiny glisten of sound his mouth makes when he smiles in the dark." And she does such a good job of immersing us in the confined space of Kay's relationship with Galbraith that we're startled when events like a dinner with her son intrude and we're reminded that she has a life.
That life is being a writer, and Harvor reveals in her precise, poetic prose how art, like life and love, is all about process.