Cool Water Paperback – Nov 22 2010
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Quill & Quire
The publicity bumpf for Dianne Warren’s first novel compares it to the work of Carol Shields and Miriam Toews, but Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is its true kindred spirit. Set in the fictional prairie hamlet of Juliet, Saskatchewan, Cool Water takes place over the course of a single day. Naturally, the day is anything but ordinary: secrets are revealed, marriages tested, and a life ended.
The novel takes up the stories of a dozen of the town’s inhabitants. Particularly well-drawn are the portraits of Norval Birch, Juliet’s bank manager, and Vicki Dolson, a struggling mother of six. Although the two never meet over the course of the novel, their lives are inextricably connected, in the manner of folks who live in a small town. Birch is aware of Vicki’s situation and empathizes with her; thoughts of her and her family consume him throughout his day. Vicki, meanwhile, moves through the novel, herding her kids and demonstrating her sweet, clueless-yet-knowing nature with every word she utters. The two characters are simply and truthfully drawn, and Warren avoids the kind of cloying “just folks” attitude that could so easily overwhelm such portrayals.
The bit players are often kept too far in the background, only to appear, chorus-like, to witness the last hour of a man’s life or to offer up a long-lost box of letters before vanishing entirely from the scene. Would that such story elements were handled with the same grace Warren demonstrates when she describes a new widow cleaning up the chopsticks used by her husband for what would be his last supper. The stunning, crushing sense of loss in this scene feels like the reader’s own.
Warren’s treatment of the town’s sand dunes as a metaphor for the lives of its inhabitants is problematic. The novel’s penultimate sentence reads, “The surface slowly changing shape.” The implication here is that the surface of the dune changes but the essentials remain the same, which seems to contradict the experience of the townspeople, whose surfaces never change although their depths roil with emotion and incident. It’s a puzzling way to leave these characters, who nevertheless remain in the reader’s mind, along with the town in which they live.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
?Warren demonstrates a finely tuned understanding of the importance of everyday life that is reminiscent of Carol Shields' abilities to transform the quotidian into something meaningful.?
- Winnipeg Free Press ()
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Top Customer Reviews
It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book. Once all of the characters and their stories were introduced, I became caught up in their various lives and problems and had a hard time putting the book down. The writing itself is understated which fit perfectly with the laid-back vibe of the small town of Juliet. For me these aspects combined (the low-key writing, the small town, the fact that the entire book takes place only over the course of about 24 hours) to convey the message that small towns are not filled with small people, but rather with people who may seem simple yet are incredibly complicated.Read more ›
Cool Water takes place in tiny Juliet, Saskatchewan over the course of two days. In rotating chapters we follow the lives of a few of the inhabitants.
Lee was a foundling, taken in by the Torgesons. They've passed on and he's now alone on the farm they've left him, unsure of himself and his place in life. Blaine and Vicki Dolson have six children - and a truckload of debt. Local banker Norval Birch has always followed the rules, but begins to question what he's really accomplished in life. Willard and his brother's widow Marian have shared the same house for nine years. They are unable to identify and act on the fact that they love one another. Lynn questions her husband's faithfullness when she finds a woman's phone number in his pocket.
None of these scenarios are earth shattering, but that is the genius behind Cool Water. There's nothing special about the characters - they're just everyday people trying to do the best they can. We become privy to the happenings behind closed doors, the feelings, emotions and memories of the characters.
Dianne Warren's prose are simple, yet eloquent and aching. The inhabitants and the town of Juliet are so clearly drawn, I had very defined mental images of both. Warren has captured the feel of small town perfectly. Living near a town of the same size, I found myself walking down Main Street the other day, looking at those I met on the sidewalk just a little bit differently.
Tying many of these stories together was a horse, both present and from the past.Read more ›
The opening chapter, or prologue describes a long-distance horse race that took place in the district many years earlier. Starting at the buffalo rubbing stone just to the north of what was then the settlement of Juliet, two cowboys proceeded 25 miles north, then west, south, and east, finally returning to the stone, outlining a 100-mile perimeter around the Little Snake Hills. The path of the race sets the parameters for the rest of the story.
Lee Torgenson awakens in the middle of the night to the sound of hoofbeats. Assuming they are the phantom hoofbeats that plague him most nights, he thinks nothing of it, until he finally gets up and discovers a real horse in his yard. The horse does not protest when Lee saddles him, and so, with the moon shining down on them, they begin their 24-hour adventure together. Lee inadvertently starts out on the same path as the historic horse race. Learning about the race at the half-way point, he decides to continue on the same route.
Although Lee's adventure starts the action, and literally draws a boundary around the story, there are many other tales that unfold and each of the stories is connected in some way to one or another. As Lee travels throughout the day, he sees or visits different farms and homesteads and we get a glimpse of the people who live there and see how their lives crisscross and intertwine. We witness interactions between a cowboy and a rebellious teenager, a bank manager and a father at the end of his rope.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This book consists of several chapters covering various characters in south western Saskatchewan over the period of a day. Read morePublished 3 months ago by parkerfan
This is a beautifully written story encapsulating the lives of many in a small town and how each in interwoven with the other. It's as I imagine some town life to be... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Jacquie Cushnie
A beautiful look at everyday lives. I couldn't put it down, In fact I read it in just 24 hours.Published on Aug. 21 2013 by Julie Topp
This was a book club choice and not gripping enough to finish. It would be interesting to know who the Govenor General Award review panel was and why they choice this book. Read morePublished on March 26 2013 by Etobicoke Book Clubbette
I received this book as a Christmas present, and was looking forward to reading it after noticing the Governor General Literary Awards sticker prominently displayed on the cover. Read morePublished on Oct. 5 2012 by M. Yakiwchuk
A wonderful book. Who knew that the relatively mundane lives of Canadians in small- town Saskatchewan could capture a reader's attention and hold it to this extent?! Read morePublished on Sept. 18 2011 by Sandra
This book was a major disappointment and I wonder at the selection of it as a GG award winner. It was passed on to me by my book buddy who feels exactly as I do - not a book we... Read morePublished on July 25 2011 by Matilda
The modern Canadian writer Dianne Warren has written a very powerful novel about life on the Canadian prairies in the twenty-first century. Read morePublished on May 13 2011 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
This is a wonderful book. I loved the characters and felt drawn in to their stories. I thought about them long after the book was finished... that's a sign of a great book, to me! Read morePublished on Jan. 30 2011 by Jessica