CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Heather Davidson.

Wolfville (NS), Nova Scarcity Enterprises, c1981.
Distributed by Nova Scarcity Enterprises, Box 1404, Wolfville, NS, B0P1X0.
114pp, paper, $10.00.
ISBN 0-9690973-0-1.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Lynn Murphy.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

Hot Tongue, Cold Shoulder is an unusual collective venture, a novel presented as an eighteenth-century diary, the text handwritten by Mary Hamilton and embellished with illustrations by Jean Hancock and calligraphy by Deborah A. Young.

It chronicles the settlement in Nova Scotia of elderly Connecticut farmer Peter Thallman, who, with his partly-grown family, joins several neighbours in the long journey to Nova Scotia where they plan to take advantage of grants of the rich farmland recently confiscated from the Acadians.

The move sits badly with the New England wives, who consider there are few enough amenities in Connecticut, without moving to a colony where wild Indians and/or revengeful French are likely to attack at any time. The men hold down the women's protests by enlisting the minister to sermonize in favour of the change (and also by providing some unaccustomed long nights in bed), but the last word belongs to Catherine Thallman, Peter's wife, whose "diary" is scheduled to appear shortly.

Thallman is no hero: a patriarch stubborn in the pursuit of family prosperity, he is sometimes harsh, often unreasonable, and always guileful. Yet, his pithy humour includes a good share of self-mockery, and he is driven into a breakdown by the death of a favourite child.

Hot Tongue, Cold Shoulder deals with community as well as family conflicts. The Yankee farmers are greatly dissatisfied with the military governor in Halifax. The theme of backbreaking labour common to most pioneer stories hardly appears here: these New Englanders walked into the well-kept farms and orchards of the Acadians, who had been developing the land for more than a century. Even Thallman, who would as soon die as hand back an acre, admits to admiring the industry and thrift of his predecessors.

The novel provides a humorous glimpse of a down-to-earth eighteenth-century Nova Scotia community, although it may represent the thoughts of the settlers more faithfully than the words they would use even in a diary. Were the descendants of the Puritans really able to laugh about sex, drunkenness, and irreligion? Perhaps they were.

Peter Thallman's rural adventures are well worth reading, preferably with strong glasses, as the handwritten text is small and varies in readability.

Lynn Murphy, Halifax, NS.
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