Despite previously insisting that this is the summer of the long read, we recently encountered a short novel, What is Left the Daughter, that has the long view and emotional impact of larger works. It's one of our favorite books of the summer, most likely the year as well, and we couldn't be more pleased that the esteemed author, Howard Norman, visits us to sign and read this Thursday, July 29.
The novel takes the form of a long letter from a forty-something Nova Scotia man to his estranged daughter. "I am writing because I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you," he writes her. His secret, borne out of unlikely circumstances, is revealed in a heartbreaking moment halfway through the book. The scene moved at least one reader here to tears on an airplane, alarming the stranger in the seat next to her, who had never actually seen anyone cry from reading a book.
Norman is an expert at this quiet devastation, though his book is not sunk in sadness or remorse. His narrator spends the book paying dearly for his lack of assertiveness, but he is neither a mope nor a tortured soul. As a young man he loses his parents, both to separate suicides, and moves in with his aunt and uncle and their adopted daughter, with whom he falls in love and ultimately conceives the daughter in question, though not before a great ordeal. This is during World War II, and though the war seems half a world away, it finds its way to them and inspires the tragedy on which this story pivots.
And while it is most definitely tragic, there is an equal amount of light and wisdom and peculiarity in Norman's book to keep it from being mired in sadness. His depiction of life in Nova Scotia, like the works of several other fine authors (Annie Proulx, Alastair MacLeod, David Adams Richards), paints it as a mythical land of toil and beauty — the kind of place where great literature flourishes.
We're told that the author is excited about his first literary tour through Mississippi, a sure sign of his penchant for far-flung, storied places. Likewise we've anxiously awaited meeting him, having admired his popular 1994 novel The Bird Artist, and especially since our friend Howard Frank Mosher, who is never demure about his passions, was such a big advocate for this book. His blurb, in fact, adorns the jacket: "What is Left the Daughter is the best story of love in the time of war I've ever read. And yes, that includes Cold Mountain and A Farewell to Arms."
Please join us Thursday (7/29) at 5:30 p.m., and if you can't make it, reserve your signed copy.