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Interment by Terry Cassidy
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Interment

by Terry Cassidy

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I was hooked from the first page: “I already knew that Gloria Peet had come from Cobalt. The surprising thing was that she died last month in Toronto, because I had found her body in 1949, almost half a century ago” (5).

Like the journalist he had been before retiring, James Thorpe, the narrator, begins “digging” to unearth the truth. His focus, however, is not so much the mystery of a murdered girl’s body but the puzzle of what happened to his family in the aftermath of that discovery. Because James admits, “I guess that summer [of 1949] was about Dad and me, at the core” (11).

The story alternates between the present (1994) and the past (1949 and the intervening 45 years). The segments in the present are narrated in first person but the flashbacks are narrated in third person in order to, James claims, help him maintain objectivity. James argues that, “’I’, the me sitting here on this deck, am made up of that person plus all the persons I have been in the years between then and now, one person sliding into another like those Russian dolls that look identical except for size” (6). Through the course of the novel, the reader sees the various persons James was: a teenager, a young man, a middle-aged man, a retiree.

The narrator certainly emerges as a fully developed character. James admits to gradually “closing down with most people” (95) and becoming “so much more concerned with how I looked to other people that I put everything into creating my own surface. Actually many surfaces, ‘The Man of a Thousand Skins’, the professional me, the convivial me, the confidante me, so many mes that I stretched very thin” (73). Through both direct and indirect characterization, we come to see James better than he sees himself.
Of course, his journey into the past also becomes a journey of self-discovery.

What we also see is the deteriorating relationship between son and father, a distancing that begins shortly after the body is discovered. Father and son have difficulty communicating. “And it is curious how once an island of non-communication appears in a sea of free communication, it can grow into an archipelago or a continent inhabited with things we don’t talk about” (59).

What the author does exceptionally well is show how their relationship becomes unraveled. When things start to go wrong, Jim is a teenager. Observations such as “Nothing is quite as keen as a teenager’s sense of injustice” (59) and “the social antennae of teenagers are very sensitive to disapproval” (60) and “like many teenagers among friends, he was feeling pushed into taking sides without any real information to go on” (44) explain Jim’s behaviour towards his father. The father’s personality contributes to the problem: “He had schooled himself . . . to a stoicism that was almost solidity” (43) and “unhappiness made him even less communicative and less sympathetic with a teenage son who was covering insecurity with a smokescreen of bravado” (61). The result is a truly convincing portrayal of a strained father-son relationship.

This book will have especial appeal to anyone familiar with northeastern Ontario, particularly Cobalt, Haileybury, Kirkland Lake, and Timmins. Having lived in that part of Ontario for 35 years, I found the descriptions of place were unfailingly accurate. The author’s memories of growing up in that part of the province will resonate with everyone who has ever called the area his/her home.

This book is highly recommended. It has all the elements of quality fiction: an interesting setting, an intriguing plot, convincing characters, and thematic depth. ( )
  Schatje | Apr 25, 2015 |
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