Its not an easy thing to write a novel about a family. Of necessity--and as the narrative years advance--characters proliferate, success and tragedy accrue, events maneuver to the fore with faintly arbitrary impetus. First-time novelist BonnieMoreIts not an easy thing to write a novel about a family. Of necessity--and as the narrative years advance--characters proliferate, success and tragedy accrue, events maneuver to the fore with faintly arbitrary impetus.
First-time novelist Bonnie Burnard, however, evades such worn grooves with the purest renunciation: a patient and lovely voice. In A Good House, awarded Canadas Giller Prize in 1999, Burnard documents an Ontario family over half a century with unadorned, deliberate, and tender sympathy. Flush with post-World War II optimism, veteran Bill Chambers and his wife Sylvia settle in to the business of raising their three young children.
Bill logs full days at the local hardware store- Sylvia strings the familys clothes out to dry in the backyard and proffers dinner punctually. Her wasting health, however, leaves her husband yearning for a contentment now stolen and her children disquieted by the sudden tenuousness of their security. When Sylvia dies and Bill remarries, his staunch and pragmatic bride Margaret displays a three-fold capacity: she allows him his sluggish and methodical affection- she preserves Sylvias memory with untainted regard- and she cultivates a deft empathy with her stepchildren.Burnards meticulous pacing nearly, but never quite, upstages the story itself, although her unwieldy and expanding cast of characters occasionally threatens such harm.
Margaret is the real wonder of the book. While the requisite affairs, divorces, and funerals intervene--and as Bill declines excruciatingly into a belligerent stranger--she summons a reserve of affection, the source of which is admirably opaque. She perseveres in hoping as mothers and fathers almost always do that the difficulties could be examined, could be broken apart and fixed one by one by one.
Burnards tale is dignified and generous. --Ben Guterson