By Mary Lawson
$29.95 Knopf Canada
Those readers who have read the book Crow Lake by Mary Lawson will be pleased to see this new novel.
Road Ends seems to me to be reminiscent of the writing of Margaret Laurence.
As the title suggests, there are endings in the lives of these characters; new beginnings seem to be more difficult.
First we meet Tom Cartwright, the eldest son in the family, entertaining a friend from university.
There isn’t much to do in the small town of Struan, in northern Ontario in 1967, but there is the ravine, complete with a treacherous path and an amazing waterfall. The appearance of a lynx is an unexpected thrill.
On this adventure are Tom, Simon (his guest) and Rob, a lifelong buddy. Rob is sad and distracted, and he won’t be coming home from this undertaking.
Megan, Tom’s sister, is 21 and getting ready to leave home. The problem is that Megan has been depended on for all the household chores, including discipline of her younger siblings, while her mother produces one baby after another.
Now Megan wants out and who can blame her?
Emily is the mother of this brood. She is only happy when she has a new baby, but no one seems aware of her precarious health.
Edward is the father of Megan, Tom, Donald, Gary, the twins Peter and Corey, and Adam. Henry died in infancy.
As a dependable parent, Edward is a dud. He is the bank manager, but when at home, he does not involve himself with family matters. He retires to his office and escapes into books about the ancient Romans.
Occasionally, when their noise gets excessive, he comes down hard on Peter and Corey. Then he hates himself because his own father was a brute.
When he examines his life he can come up with many excuses, including, “I never wanted a marriage and a family, it was all Emily.”
The only really steady person in this family is Megan — and she is leaving.
In a household where emotions are smothered, conversation is only of the necessary kind and anyone who suspects there is a problem, convinces themselves that “It will be all right,” almost anything can happen.
There is tragedy in this story and there is spiritual death, as family members deal ineffectually with grief and neglect.
So this all sounds pretty bleak, but there are good reasons for these characters behaving the way they do.
Lawson knows families and she understands that when communication breaks down, things fall apart.
Donald and Gary have joined the navy and they are gone; Megan is in London; Tom seems unable to take action, and maybe it isn’t possible to really escape the trap that is this family.
But things are changing in Struan: a new resort hotel is being built, which may liven up the town. Maybe there will be new options for everyone.
This book will be a good choice for book clubs.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.