When Tim Wakelin, recently a widower, heads north in search of a story about a local healer named Caroline Troyer, he enters a world that is real yet strange. Familiar landmarks disappear and extraordinary events unfold as his life becomes intertwined with hers. Even the landscape itselfthe ancient rocks, myriad lakes, and cathedral forests of the Canadian Shieldbecomes a source of threat. How can he understand this strange and beautiful woman when he is no longer sure why he has really come or what is happening to him?
Until now, Caroline’s life has been dominated by her parents: her cunning father, Ross, who has exerted an unspoken power over her since she was a child; and Ardis, her weak yet abusive mother. Aware that her ability to heal is only part of a mysterious process of transformation that she is undergoing, Caroline must break free of the chains of her family. Perhaps Tim can provide the sanctuary she needs, if he has the strength to survive the violent forces unleashed by his arrival.
Greg Hollingshead has created a brilliant and arresting story of grief, delusion, and family betrayal, but also of transcendent love and deep personal loyalty, in an extraordinary novel that explores the fine line between madness and sanity, and between physical and spiritual reality. Darkly beautiful, illuminated by flashes of wit and great lyricism, written in a compelling cadence all its own, The Healer is a work of immense power and original sensibility.
If anyone needs healing, it’s Tim Wakelin, freelance journalist and recent widower. When he comes to the small Canadian mining town of Grant, Wakelin thinks it’s to do a story on a purported faith healer; instead, he discovers a balm for his own wounded soul. Healing comes in the person of Caroline Troyer, a woman with miraculous, if unpredictable, powers. Passing himself off as a man in search of property in the country, Wakelin convinces Caroline, whose father is a realtor, to show him around. It isn’t long before he realizes that far from being a charlatan, this woman is the real McCoy; on impulse he decides not to write about her after all and to actually buy that mythical cabin in the woods he’s been using as a cover story. But Wakelin’s arrival upsets a precarious balance in Caroline’s personal life as she struggles to separate herself from her controlling father and embittered mother. Internal struggles become externalized when Wakelin gets lost in the woods and she must save him.
Greg Hollingshead’s tale of love, betrayal, and redemption in the backwoods of Canada features interesting characters and a fascinating premise; unfortunately, the writing is often too overwrought to bear the weight of the story. Describing a meal, he writes: “Eggs of crumbling yolk and rubber-white albumen on a carbon laminate, dank toast, coffee a rusted knife-edge of heartburn, thin and without taste. A breakfast something like a story about a healer, something like a saint’s life. Of dubious provenance. The dog’s breakfast of narratives. Hearsay, exaggeration, wishful thinking, local legend. Followed now through a confusion of smoke and opinion, in a place for locals, a meetinghouse of initiates, with the blanket of the familiar draped all round. Cozy as heaven, old as hell.” If a plate of bacon and eggs can elicit this kind of drama, what can we expect when something important happens? Despite its faults, however, The Healer has one ace in the hole: Caroline Troyer, an original and satisfyingly complex character who consistently confounds expectations. —Margaret Prior