Screenwriter Lori Lansens has created an international buzz and impressive foreign sales with her first novel, Rush Home Road
, set within the black community of southwestern Ontario. Addy, Lansens's central character, is an elderly black woman who was raised in a settlement founded by fugitive slaves, the fictional village of Rushholme, and now lives in a trailer park near Chatham. When the mother of a five-year-old neighbour girl named Sharla runs off, Addy becomes the girl's caregiver. Her young charge helps give Addy the will to live, and also inspires a mental journey of bittersweet remembrance back through a tragic life filled with rape, racism, murder, and the death of her own children.
Lansens, who is white, has had mixed reviews from black Canadian literary critics: her portrayals of black characters have been alternately praised for their credibility and damned for sentimentality. Structurally, Lansens has also set herself a big challenge since she must juggle past and present storylines without giving either short shrift. Inevitably, since the past events of Addy's life are so dense with incident, the present events often feel like filler: we can't wait for Addy's mind to drift again among the decades. But ultimately the story manages to overcome its elements of melodrama--the litany of suffering inflicted upon Addy and Sharla would do any soap opera plotline proud--and become the kind of richly detailed epic that readers who miss Oprah's Book Club will especially enjoy. --Nigel Hunt
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From Publishers Weekly
Certain novels recall fairy tales. Their heroes are banished, repeatedly challenged, until finally, foes vanquished, they make their triumphant homecoming. Though it opens in 1978 in a Chatham, Ontario, trailer park, Lansens's poignant debut is just such a novel. At its heart is Adelaide Shadd, a 70-year-old black woman who takes in five-year-old Sharla Cody when Sharla's "white trash" mother abandons her. As Addy turns Sharla from a malnourished, heedless child into a healthy, thoughtful girl, she recollects her own past. Addy grew up in Rusholme, a fictional cousin to the many Ontario communities founded by fugitive slaves brought north by the Underground Railroad. By 1908, when Addy is born, Rusholme is settled almost entirely by black farmers and is close to idyllic. But a rape and subsequent pregnancy force Addy to run away from Rusholme (she thinks of it as a command: "Rush home"), not to return for many years. Addy's life her marriage, her children, her journey to Detroit and back to Canada is the rich core of a novel also laden with history: Lansens manages to work in not only the Railroad, but also Prohibition and the Pullman porter movement. This is artfully done, but Lansens doesn't handle the novel's smaller scenes quite as well: she tends to drop narrative threads and confuse chronology. Some readers will resent the repeated plucking of their heartstrings, too, given how much Addy and Sharla suffer. Nonetheless, Lansens has created in Addy a truly noble character, not for what she suffered in the past but for what she does in the novel's present.
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