Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Maureen Brownlee, Loggers' Daughters

So many books, so little time: you've got to choose wisely, and to do that, we've all got shortcuts that we'd like to pretend are more sophisticated than judging a book by its cover. One of mine, that I'd love to say was helpful at least once, has been simply to check whether the book's blurbers are named in the acknowledgements section. I haven't relied heavily on it for a little while now, but even if I still believed, Maureen Brownlee's wonderful Loggers' Daughters would have marked the end of this particular shortcut.

The theory was that the blurbs maybe shouldn't be trusted, if those writing them were close enough to the writing process to merit public acknowledgement. (Obviously this was only a small-press strategy. A blurb from Entertainment Weekly gets you an automatic DQ anyway, if that's consolation.)

The thing is, though, that all these terrific BC writers know each other's work, and even if at times they're reading each other's writing when it's still in process, they're blurbing each other's finished books carefully and thoughtfully: Theresa Kishkan, Tim Bowling, Terry Glavin, Angie Abdou, Brian Fawcett, Charlotte Gill, JB MacKinnon….

In the case of Maureen Brownlee's Loggers' Daughters, in other words, I was worried that the blurbs were from two writers named in the acknowledgements section, Globe-dubbed "godfather" Andreas Schroeder and #socmedia dynamo Angie Abdou. When it took me a little while to get comfortable with Adare Wilkins and her family, when there was just so damned much in the book that I thought should have been grabbing me, well, I started to worry.

I shouldn't have, because the book was just nestling me into Adare's world. Once I was embedded, events began to accelerate, and I was utterly hooked.

Loggers' Daughters is set in the interior of British Columbia, 1983, when mortgage rates were around 20%, when employment was even more volatile than usual for logging communities, and when the BC coast was wild with marches and protests of many kinds (cruise missiles, Red Hot Video fire-bombings, feminism, etc.). Adare Wilkins, the novel's main character, is 44 years old, painfully aware of being stuck between generations and of the world's changes since her youth, and yet unsure how and where to stand on her own. Well before the novel's narrated present, Adare found herself dragooned into moving with her husband back to her mother's farm, mostly to care for her but also to keep the farm alive. She poured a lot of energy and time (and money) into the property, only to have her mother die without a will, leaving her with no legal claim to the farm, and yet because her siblings are all struggling financially as well, there's just no good reason for them to give her more than her due.

This novel gives its readers a brilliant, small-scale representation of a woman claiming her place in the world, anchored in a version of small-town 1980s BC that feels awfully true to me. As I said about Frances Greenslade's Shelter and Matt Hooton's Deloume Road, I'm not sure anymore how I really feel about realist fiction, given how much time I'm seeming to spend with environmental nonfiction and speculative fiction of assorted kinds. With Loggers' Daughters, Maureen Brownlee has written the kind of novel that makes realist fiction world enough for so many readers: great, great read!

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