Author Elizabeth Hay’s books have received a number of honors. She recently won the Marian Engle Award for a woman writer in mid-career. She lives in Ottawa.
The eagerly anticipated novel from the bestselling author of A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs.
Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined.
Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. One summer, on a canoe trip four of them make into the Arctic wilderness (following in the steps of the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death in the barrens in 1927), they find the balance of love shifting, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to displace Native people from their land.
Set in Ottawa in the 1990s, it is the quixotic tale of tall, thin Harriet Browning, inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child. Harriet is a woman so saturated with the movies, seen repeatedly and swallowed whole, that she no longer fits into this world. Bent on seeing everything she has missed, she forms a Friday night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy sidekick named Dinah for Dinah Shore. Breaking in upon this quiet backwater, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood, the faded widow of a famous screenwriter and her movie-expert stepson. They are harsh reality. With them come blackouts, arguments, accidents, illness and sudden death. But what chance does real life stand when we can watch movies instead? What hope does real love have when movie love, in all its brief intensity, is an easy option? In this comedy of secondhand desire, movies and movie lovers come first
Maurice Dove is a visitor to the Saskatchewan farm of widower Ernest Hardy. The relationship he forms with Hardy’s daughters—the beautiful, virtuous Lucinda and the dark, intelligent, younger Norma-Joyce—gives rise to an act of betrayal that throws into relief the deep-rooted enmity between them. Norma-Joyce’s life, from the time she is eight, is fuelled by her obsessive (and unrequited) love for Maurice Dove. Later, in pursuing her life as an artist, she makes discoveries about her past that bring the story full-circle.
Hay’s evocation of place is palpable, vivid; her characters at once eccentric and familiar. Norma-Joyce, once a strange, dark, self-possessed child, becomes a woman who learns something of self-forgiveness and of the redemptive power of art. Hay’s writing is spare yet richly textured, dark and erotic. The physical and emotional landscapes she portrays evoke tragic and comic surprises, and teach us about the lasting imprint of first love.