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Guy Vanderhaeghe

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1989. 292pp, cloth, $26.95
ISBN 0-7710-8695-4. CIP

Reviewed by Joanne Peters.

Volume 18 Number 1
1990 January

Homesick is set in Connaught, Sas­katchewan, in 1959. Alex Monkman owns Connaught; that is, he owns the hotel, the cinema, the main store, and every other profit-making enterprise. Still, one never really gets the feeling that Alex is a rich man, probably because his loneliness is overwhelming.

Alienated from his daughter Vera, who jointed the army in order to escape the mind-numbing drudgery of being housekeeper to her father and surrogate mother to her emotionally fragile younger brother, Monkman's only com­panion is a faithful old retainer named Stutz. As the novel begins, however, Vera and her son Daniel are on their way back to Vera's old home in Connaught.

Life on the edge during World War II was exhilarating for Vera; like many veterans, she finds civilian existence incomparably dull, especially when she discovers that army experience is of no help in the post-war job market. She finds brief happiness in her marriage to the gentle and cultured Stanley Miller, but it ends with his untimely death, leaving her to raise her infant son alone, supporting the two of them in a series of dead-end jobs. Fearful of the corruption her son might encounter in Toronto as he becomes an adolescent, Vera swal­lows her pride (a very large gulp indeed) and heads back to Connaught.

Despite some initial wariness, Alex and Daniel soon become each other's closest companions, a bond which enrages Vera, who is so like her father it's small wonder that they can't tolerate each other for more than five minutes.

Homesick is about tough people who have lived tough lives. Vanderhaeghe has each character, by turns, tell his or her part of the story, and while we are not always sympathetic to those sepa­rate voices, we recognize the kernel of truth in each character's view of the story.

This is not a novel for every reader, and I would recommend it only for more mature senior high school stu­dents, not merely because of the colour­ful profanity with which Alex laces the air. Reading this novel demands patience; because so much of it takes place in the memories of its major characters, it is often slow-moving, and at times, is in danger of grinding to a halt.

In tone and pace, Homesick is quite different from Vanderhaeghe's award-winning short story collection, Man Descending. Still, as an example of well-crafted current Canadian fiction, Homesick deserves a place in the litera­ture collection of a senior high school library.

Joanne Peters, Sisler High School, Winnipeg, Man.
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