A stranger emerges from the snow-swept prairie, and the moment a young girl touches the "coin of frostbite" on his cheek, she sets off a rivalry that will span 30 years and follow her from the Saskatchewan dust bowl to apple-plenty Ottawa and the humid bustle of New York City. "A child falls in love with a man," the tale goes, "and the man is seduced by the intensity he has generated. Then his attention shifts to something else. End of story." But this is hardly the extent of Elizabeth Hay's Giller-nominated debut novel, A Student of Weather
. For when easterner Maurice Dove arrives in parched Willow Bend to study the unusual phenomenon of the Hardy farm's being a veritable "magnet for moisture," he irrevocably disrupts the rhythm of the routine and the hearts of two Hardy sisters: golden Lucinda June and small, dark, unpredictable Norma Joyce.
A Student of Weather is a deftly textured novel about how accidents, in life and weather, impact destiny and how reticence can maim and claim lives. It is about arrivals and leave-takings, forgiveness bestowed then retracted, and the power of artwork to redeem and heal. Hay builds her characters and the world they inhabit from the small details: domestic, elemental, psychological, mythological. The novel's dark luminosity is perfectly embodied by the sisters, whose complex psyches lurk, subdermally, beneath every act, gesture, glance. The saga moves restlessly back and forth across the country, but its true beauty and strength lie in the Saskatchewan sections: the passages describing a seemingly barren grassland teeming with life are like "stepping outside into a burst of liquid birdsong." --Diana Kuprel
From Publishers Weekly
"Two sisters fell down the same well, and the well was Maurice Dove." Acclaimed Canadian short story writer Hay's first novel, recently shortlisted for the prestigious Giller Prize, is a compelling and highly original debut telling the story of two sisters and the jealousy that irrevocably changes their lives when a young student comes to stay on their father's Saskatchewan farm in the 1930s. Ernest Hardy is widowed, a single father raising two young girls on the rural prairies, when twenty-something Maurice Dove arrives from Ottawa to study the region's unusual weather patterns. Eight-year-old Norma Joyce, dark, fiercely intelligent, and inflicted with early puberty, claims Maurice from the first moment she sees him, albeit unrequitedly. Her sister, the "beautiful, saintly" Lucinda, 17, falls deeply in love. After Maurice leaves and his letters stop coming, Lucinda suffers a two-month-long deep depression. Seven years later, the sisters cannot forget Maurice. The Hardy family inherits a relative's house and moves to Ottawa, on the same block as the Dove family home. What occurs between then teenaged Norma Joyce (who will likely invite comparisons to Rhoda Penmark of The Bad Seed) and the war-damaged Maurice brings to light a childhood betrayal significant enough to devastate everyone involved. Moving seamlessly through 30 years in Saskatchewan, Ottawa and New York City, Hay's novel offers up just the right combination of melodrama and melancholy. Already a best seller in Canada, it should soar this side of the border, too.
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