by Don Hannah
Published by Knopf Canada
368 pages, 2007
You Can Go Home Again
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
Several years earlier, it was Lorraine who persuaded her mother to sell up and to come to Toronto to settle into a tiny apartment. Like so many elderly mothers before her, fictional and otherwise, she holds her daughter responsible for her unhappiness, carrying her longing to be back home to her grave.
It's this longing that propels her to make two final trips back home. In the first, she returns to the family farm where she grew up. Given away by her parents to be raised by relatives, she never really got over her feelings of abandonment. Her adopted mom was kind to her, but in her memories neither her stepsisters nor her real parents were.
In a heartbreaking scene, she is reunited with her husband, Jamie, only to be awakened in the middle of their joyous lovemaking by her daughter's voice. Nevertheless, her memories of her marriage and the marital home she aches to return to are not all good ones. Jamie's family home contains secrets, one of which Susan Ann has guiltily kept from her husband. She also has memories of lying on the floor, in pain and about to give birth but ignored by the mother-in-law, Queenie, who lived with them and who loomed so large in both their lives; and abandoned by her husband. Is the memory true? And was that accident that killed her future father-in-law really an accident? In one fell swoop Queenie escaped her dreadful marriage and gained her beloved son permanently.
The author has either gone through the experience of losing someone close to him through a lingering illness and protracted hospital stay, or he has done his research meticulously. Susan Ann's state of being, her reaction to her children, and her lapses of memory and confusion so totally resonate that anyone who has lost someone dear to them in this way will find themselves filled once again with the same sorrow and memories. It's uncanny how Hannah can get into this woman's head and so realistically portray that half dream-like, half mystic state of a life that's fading into twilight.
The sustained mood of loneliness and longing also weaves a melancholy spell. Don't read Ragged Islands to be entertained. Read it because you want to be moved and perhaps even just a little enlightened. | March 2007
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.