The Town That Drowned

Dam good

THE TOWN THAT DROWNED by Riel Nason (Goose Lane), 263 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN

If her debut novel, The Town That Drowned, is any indication, Riel Nason is a writer to watch.

This tender tale about a New Brunswick village threatened by the provincial government’s plan to build a dam has a ton of soul.

The story is told from the point of view of 14-year-old brainiac and budding artist Ruby, who’s consistently targeted by the high school mean girls. When she falls into the river and recounts her hallucination of an underwater town – before the official dam announcement – she is not, unfortunately, deemed a visionary, but becomes even more of an outcast.

It doesn’t help that her 10-year-old brother, Percy, is a very unusual boy. Though plainly gifted – he’s hyper-articulate, obsessed with scientific research – he also cries with almost no provocation and can go completely off the rails when any of his routines is disrupted. Protecting him has always been Ruby’s priority.

She’s also a good friend and helper to Ellis Cole, the old man whose house is about to be expropriated so a new town can be built on his multi-acre property. When Cole’s no-good son Tommy appears on the scene, Nason ratchets up the tension effectively. Exactly how will Tommy exploit his dad? And isn’t he a little too much in Ruby’s face?

Too bad Nason’s narrative solutions are a little too pat. And a budding romance between Ruby and the son of an antiques dealer who parachutes into town to buy up stuff from residents forced to relocate is a bit too sweet. Besides, wouldn’t the townspeople be put off by a father-and-son team so obviously cashing in on their sorrowful situation?

But Nason has a strong sense of place and a knack for getting us involved with her characters.


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