I have just read a novel of such unspeakable beauty that I am overwhelmed. Donna Morrissey’s Sylvanus Now is breathtaking, right from the first vision of Sylvanus jigging fish: right forearm up, left forearm down, left forearm up, right forearm down; to the vision of Adelaide’s eye, sparkling blue. It’s a novel about the changing of the fishery in Newfoundland, when large trawlers came in to rape the seas and the governments abandoned both the sea and the careful tenders of her in favour of cheap fish and way too much of it. It’s a story of a people forced to change their ways of life, and it seems as fresh now as when it was written, as we all cope with a changing economy and hang on the American election with bated breath, wondering what our future in Canada holds, tied as we are to the tails of the American Bald Eagle (a carrion-eater) and the Chinese Tiger (endangered by environmental change).
Donna Morrissey has won many awards for her writing, and they are well-deserved. Her power in a sentence is vast. Her ability to evoke the feelings of the people she describes, complicated and earthy and thoughtful and hidden as they are is astonishing.
I can’t believe I hadn’t read her before.
I feel small, I do, as I struggle to bring my words to life in even a tenth of the way Morrissey does. I know there are many authors who don’t write this way and are still successful, and who write perfectly acceptable stories and thrillers that make you want to stay up all night or love stories that make you yearn for the glory of new love (well, except for we cynics). But all of my life, despite my stated fondness for the “good enough” story, I’ve yearned to write like Morrissey, like Helen Humphreys, Frances Itani, Bronwyn Wallace. I want to wrestle feelings from readers, transport them, make them feel the sea spray or the bombs thundering or the mud or the fear.
It’s funny the reaction I have when reading such writing. I relax into the book, knowing I am in the hands of a master, knowing the book will take me on a ride and enclose me in its world. I stay awake, eyelids flipping up and down like a blind in the hands of a misbehaving preschooler, unwilling to let the world go, reading just that one more page. With lesser books, I stay alert, less involved, easier to distract, more likely to put it down, even if it is a good book. The great books show me their hearts. I can’t help but respond.
And the feeling lingers. After Sylvanus Now, I want to go out and see the sea, inhale it, feel its call, see the salt-bleached houses, run the wind through my hair.
Fortunately, I live in Nova Scotia. The sea is fifteen minutes away. “Go on, you foolish thing,” I can hear Florry say.