WHAT THEY WANTED by Donna Morrissey (Viking), 325 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NN
A daughter is born at the end of Donna Morrissey's award-winning 2005 novel, Sylvanus Now, and this daughter, Sylvie, takes the spotlight in What They Wanted, set 25 years later.
Sylvanus has just suffered a heart attack, bringing Sylvie home from Alberta to her East Coast roots and causing further tensions within the family - most notably between her and her brother, Chris. This relationship is the most mature of those Morrissey portrays here, but even so it's unnecessarily drawn out.
One strength of the novel is Morrissey's unflinching Canadianisms - her depictions of Newfoundland's fisheries and Alberta's oil rigs - and her writing is rich in description, location and authenticity.
Unfortunately, her narrative voice is off, and the novel wavers between Sylvie's speaking voice and a more removed and less distinct one.
Morrissey's characters are certainly realistic, and she writes them with tender conviction. Problem is, they lack the depth given to her locations. Despite its potential as a memorably emotional affair, the love story between Sylvie and her high-school-through-to-adulthood fixation, Ben Rice, falls flat.
For a novel that relies on an almost classic storytelling format, thick with dialogue and the skipping of time, there just isn't enough to hold onto.
The relationships between characters are well crafted, especially those among the three generations of women in Sylvie's family. Sylvie is close to her grandmother and nervously tiptoes around her mother, who has always favoured her eldest son. But the male characters are abrasive, underdeveloped and too alike.
Morrissey's East Coast Canada is, ultimately, just not Ann-Marie MacDonald's. Nor is it the contemporary Prairie fiction we've been waiting for.
Both regions, with all their hardships, complexities and beauty, are more fertile than this.
Morrissey reads at the International Festival of Authors on October 25. readings.org.