- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Phyllis Bruce Books Perennial (Nov. 22 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1554685591
- ISBN-13: 978-1554685592
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #209,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Cool Water Paperback – Nov 30 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.
"Cool Water evokes a Canadian west that is, like the American southwest, timeless and powerful and hauntingly beautiful. Dianne Warren's absolutely authentic characters, with all their loneliness and strength, will be new to you." -- Bonnie Burnard --Bonnie Burnard
"Reading Dianne Warren's Cool Water is like drinking from a deep well after crossing the parched sand hills of the west. Leisurely and unpretentious, her prose lifts the hardscrabble town of Juliet and its people into the realm of myth." -- Joan Clark --Joan Clark
"Reading Dianne Warren's novel, I was reminded of Carol Shields and the creation of unassuming matter- of-fact characters who are, in truth, generously complicated. The writing is understated,wry, and laconic - as it the place itself could not produce any other kind of story." -- David Bergen --David Bergen
"Warmhearted, witty, original, Cool Water maintains its steady, low-key tone, even as it pulls you into its world and doesn't let you go. It has been a long time since I loved a novel so much." -- Sharon Butala --Sharon Butala
"That two people can share a house and not know they love one another; that a note in a pocket with a woman's name on it can crack decades of trust--this is a novel about the isolation that we hold secret within ourselves; that makes us envy the true hearts of horses and dogs. This novel shivers with nervous life. It tiptoes the fine edge between joy and weeping." --Fred Stenson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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. This book worked so well with a small town as the setting, and would not have worked as well if it had taken place in a large city. In Juliet, all of the character's lives were intertwined, even if it was in a small way.
Vicki and Blaine Dolson and their six children emerged as early character favourites for me. They are struggling financially, and they are also struggling with the difference between how their parents did things and how they are doing things. Vicki's focus is on her young children and you can tell that she would do anything to make them happy. You can also tell that she is a really good mom, and that housekeeping and chores can come backseat to that, because her kids are her priorities in life. She's almost unapologetic about the fact that she is nothing like her mother-in-law, nor will she strive to be like her. She is a whole new generation. I enjoyed the stories of all of the characters, but the story of the Dolson's remains my favourite.
Cool Water is Dianne Warren's first full- length novel, and one that I highly recommend picking up. It does the Canadian Literature genre proud.
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. We see an older couple trying to make a connection with each other and a father communicating with his son, however briefly. One woman loses her horse and another is afraid she's lost a husband. We see how someone's innocent action earlier in the day has repercussions later, so that leaving a gate open, or writing down a phone number, can have potentially disastrous consequences.
This is a very satisfying book. Warren describes her complex, appealing characters in a very warm-hearted, straightforward manner. Through them, she reminds us that we are all connected. We live our lives and each of us has our own story but we are inextricably linked to others, no matter how ephemerally and whether or not we are aware of that connection and its possible effect. Not a new idea perhaps, but somehow comforting nonetheless, and Warren's version of it is a pure pleasure to read.
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