CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003
Eight stories feature female voices, three male voices, and one, in diary format, dual voices; seven of the stories are first person accounts, five third person. Wilson's native Nova Scotia acts as the backdrop with beautifully detailed glimpses into the landscape and atmosphere of the area whether the setting is a city like Halifax, the seacoast, or the countryside. In some "parts of the province, winter can seem as forever as dying" complains the narrator of “Mr. Manuel Jenkins” while Sylvia, a sea-person, in “Brothers and Sisters” revels in the "turbulent sea" with whitecaps "which raced toward the northern point of land, crashing on granite rocks in an explosion of white breakers and spray" while the "waves pounded onto the sand, then inhaled into themselves" under a "dazzling blue" sky.
Some of the stories focus on the "cracks" in relationships between mothers and their offspring. “Lida, Like a Water Lily,” deals with a joyless mother for whom, "somewhere along the way, all the softness had got sucked out" and "what rushed back to fill up the empty space was rage," an anger "so black and blinding that she can't see beyond it to anything else." In “Two Diaries,” Richard's mother, a journalist, is "crazed with curiosity," and so he acquires a strongbox to hide his diary from her prying eyes. The narrator of “Crybaby” observes that "trying hard enough" was his mother's philosophy, and her rules controlled all aspects of family life. Mother's "obsession with food and cleanliness and good behaviour" and her "refusal to listen to what I was or was not saying" irritates the narrator of “Mr. Manuel Jenkins.” In her diary, the narrator of “Mothers” complains about her mother's ambition but realizes her good fortune when she confronts the maternal physical abuse inflicted on her gymnastics' rival, Angela. Charlotte in “The Metaphor” describes her mother as:
While mothers may dominate, manipulate, perpetrate mindless cruelties, or be simply unaware, fathers also "are flawed on several levels." Lida's alcoholic father deters her from inviting friends home until she gets the courage to ask for his cooperation. Jeff needs to show his father (“Fathers”) "that he was a winner" because he was "so sick of being put down, of being told he was a sissy, of being mocked for being a klutz . . . of being made to feel like such a big nothing." From his successful Bay Street venue, the narrator of “Dreams” looks back at his youthful longing to be the "most talented fisherman in Mackerel Cove" and recalls how his father, who gutted fish all day and terrorized his family at night, insisted he accept "the biggest university scholarship for the region" and "pitch out [his] fancy dreams." Clara (“Confusion”) struggles with what she sees as her preacher father's hypocrisy railing against sin, yet sinning himself. The father, "an ambitious but unsuccessful man who wanted everything to go his way - or come his way," slams the narrator of “Crybaby” "across the side of [his] face with the back of his hand" to stop his crying about the loss of his dog.
well as providing love and care, fathers or mothers respectively,
often assume protectionist roles, deflecting anger and criticism or
explaining perceived contradictions or injustices. Mrs. Adams reminds
Clara (“Confusion”) she can't expect her father to be
perfect and explains, "he's aware of his short fuse and he's
working on it" albeit "for twenty-five years." In trying
to protect Carlotta from worrying about her mother's leukemia, the
parents in “Carlotta's Search” fail her and she turns
to a teacher who takes her to the school library and assists in her
search for information.
Whether the stories focus on sibling rivalry, self-image, relationships, dysfunctional families, self-knowledge, or illness and death, Wilson incorporates tolerance and gentleness in her tales and permits each young person to find a measure of joy and comfort in his/her "fractured" family environment. Mr. Manuel Jenkins instills harmony in the Nickerson household; Julie encourages everyone to look at Lida through her eyes (“Like a Water Lily”); Sylvia's despair turns to joy when Marcus stumbles into her life (“Brothers and Sisters”); Carlotta, armed with information, can cope with her mother's illness; Richard and Erika of “Two Diaries” find each other through adversity; the narrator of “Crybaby,” "socially inept, emotionally fettered, and philosophically naive" finally releases "the band of steel" and cries "for every remembered grief and rage" and abuse he endured as a child.
Wilson's family stories provide sensitive and insightful glimpses into the uncertainties, the discoveries, the agonies, and the joys of growing up. The stories will resonate with both young and old as the themes are universal and the prose is vital, compelling, and rich in imagery. Fractures joins Wilson's 1991 collection, The Leaving, in presenting memorable characters and thought-provoking stories.
Darleen Golke is a librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.
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