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The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey

The Fortunate Brother

by Donna Morrissey

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I've read a few of Donna Morrissey's books although not as many as I would have liked. One of the ones I have read is Sylvanus Now. The eponymous character of that book appears in this book. I felt like I was catching up with the news of a friend that I knew when they were young but lost touch with for many years.

Life has not been kind to the Now family. They were driven out of their outport home by the decline of the cod fishery. Sylvanus cut his house in half and floated it to a village down the coast near Cornerbrook. Then Sylvanus had a heart attack and could not continue working. His daughter Sylvie came home from Alberta and when she went back the older son, Chris, went with her. That left just Kyle living at home. Then came the devastating news that Chris had been killed on an oil rig. Everyone in the family grieved but each in their own way. Sylvanus took to the bottle, Sylvie went to Africa with her boyfriend, Kyle ran away, literally, from acknowledging the grief and only Addie, the mother, seemed to deal with the sorrow that she felt. Although religion is never specifically mentioned it seems like Addie has a deep religious conviction and she is sustained by that. At one point Addie tells Kyle that everybody has something to grieve. "It's how you carries it--that's what you take into the other world with you. That's the only thing we takes." However, even her faith may be challenged when she is told she has breast cancer and must have a mastectomy immediately. As unlikely as it may seem the murder of a local man, Clar Gilliard, brings peace to the family even though initially Sylvanus and Kyle suspect one another and then suspect Addie.

Despite the serious matters in this book there are also touches of humour. When Addie is in the hospital she doesn't want Sylvie told about her cancer but, of course, that's the first thing Kyle spits out when Sylvie phones. Sylvanus reams him out about spilling the beans all the way to the hospital in Cornerbrook and cautions Kyle to say nothing to his mother. In Addie's room Sylvanus takes the chair next to her bed and the first words out of his mouth is that Sylvie is coming home. I gave a bark of laughter at that.

Another great book from this great writer. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Nov 21, 2016 |
This is the third in a trilogy which began with Sylvanus Now and was followed by What They Wanted. Readers who are familiar with the Now family will want to read this third installment, but the book can certainly be read as a standalone.

This book focuses on Kyle Now who is still mourning the death of his brother Chris who died working on an Alberta oil rig. The family is a troubled one. Sylvanus, the father, takes refuge in alcohol; Abbie, the mother, is facing breast cancer; and Kyle’s relationship with his sister Sylvie is strained because of what he sees as her role in Chris’ death. Then a local bully, Clar Gillard, is murdered and suspicion falls on the Now family with whom he has had confrontations.

Characterization is amazing. All characters are fully developed, round characters, their traits consistent with those in the first two books of the trilogy. Kyle is a dynamic character. At the beginning he sees nothing positive in the world: “Felt like the one long day for three years now. The one long dull day, caught on a cloud of grief hovering over his house.” He has no hope: “Nope. Kyle Now was done with wishing.” He does not talk and share his grief with others but worries about everyone else, his constant fingernail-chewing and foot-jiggling clearly indicating his tension. His typical response is to run: “he’d pushed [Sylvie] away and ran and was still running. Running from everything.” The novel shows how Kyle goes from such desperation to finally running towards someone and seeing the beauty around him: “The moan’s broadening smile rose above the hills and glimmered amongst stars that were mostly dead and yet whose lights still shone through the eternal sky.”

Kyle’s foil is his mother. Addie, despite all her troubles, always remains hopeful. Chris is “struck once more by her fortitude. That whatever this new thing thickening her cloud of sorrow, hope was already ignited in her heart and offering itself as a shelter for him and his father.” The contrast is obvious when Kyle is described: “But he was done with hope. It took her babies and Chris and he had no more courage for hope. Hope had failed her too many times. Rather that she had never hoped. Rather that it was just those babies she grieved and not the pain of lost hope as well.” Kyle needs to learn what Addie has, that “hope eventually creeps through darkness, making inroads through to an easier tomorrow” and that “’There’s good to be found in everything, even grief.’”

There are, of course, other lessons that Kyle must learn: “’Some people have illness, everybody has something. It’s how you carries it – that’s what you take into the other world with you. That’s the only thing we takes’” and “’You can’t go getting down and blaming yourself for stuff you got no control over’” and “’You needs to be like everyone else, tending to your own concerns.’” I love the references to Job: “’We’re blessed like Job then, when we feels the fear of something and does it anyway’” and “’we’re sainted like Job when we can stand the pain and thrive in the end.’” A person may be given advice but does not necessarily listen, and part of the interest of the novel is in seeing if/how Kyle will learn these lessons.

As suggested, a major theme is that of hope. It is introduced in the epigraph, a quotation from George Eliot’s Adam Bede: “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and to have recovered hope.” Repetition is used to emphasize the need for hope: “’And you can’t lose hope, either. You got to trust some things’” and “’Hope’s a powerful thing. It’s what takes us into the next world, hopes of a better life’” and “’There’s always hope’” and “Hope’s contagious like that: if one believes, then another might.”

It is not just characterization and theme development that are amazing. There is such pleasure in reading Morrissey’s style. The dialogue is truly that of a Newfoundland outport. The images are also wonderful. An abstract like guilt is made concrete: “Guilt rotting him like an old shack built on wet ground, leaving no shores strong enough to shelter himself or his family.” And descriptions of setting say so much: “Sulphuric smells rose from a smoking pulp mill that headed the harbour while nice shingled homes and shops and oak trees encircled the mill’s land side as ribs might encircle the life-giving heart.”

I strongly recommend this book; it is literary fiction at its best. If you haven’t read Sylvanus Now and What They Wanted, read them first, but if you have been fortunate enough to meet the Now family, reunite with them by reading The Fortunate Brother. You will not be disappointed.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
1 vote Schatje | Sep 12, 2016 |
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she’s honed her craft and taken heed of some justified criticism to produce substantive, elegiac, and, in the case of her latest, suspenseful work.... Morrissey is a terrific mood-setter, something she does not via political, stylistic, or cultural references but through the expertly rendered dialogue whose rhythms and staccato “gawd-damns” function as the novel’s soundtrack. The latter, along with her descriptive abilities, are Morrissey’s signal strengths and the undisputed stars of this novel....Morrissey has often been praised for her female characters. Here, though, it’s the men, with their natural, unweighted repartee, that compel and convince.

The ending, if not quite revelatory, is convincing enough. All in all, an impressive outing, and a bold new beginning for Donna Morrissey, crime writer.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670066060, Paperback)

A powerful tale of a family reeling from the tragic loss of a son, while facing a mysterious murder on their doorstep--told by one of Canada's most beloved voices.

After being uprooted from their fishing outport, the Now family is further devastated by the tragic loss of their eldest son, Chris, who died working on an Alberta oil rig. Kyle Now is still mourning his older brother when the murder of a local bully changes everything. The victim's blood is found on the family's pier, and suspicion falls first on an alienated wife, and then finally on the troubled Now family.
     But behind this new turmoil, Chris's death continues to plague the family. Father Sylvanus Now drowns his sorrow in a bottle, while mother Addie is facing breast cancer. And the children fight their own battles as the tension persists between Kyle and his sister, Sylvie, over her role in their brother's death.
     A cast of vivid characters surrounds the Now family, some intriguing, others comical--all masterfully crafted. As the murder mystery unfolds, other deeper secrets are revealed. Wise in the ways of the heart, The Fortunate Brother is a moving family drama from beloved storyteller Donna Morrissey.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 12 Sep 2016 22:19:23 -0400)

The Fortunate Brother is a dark, atmospheric and compelling novel about the aftermath of a murder in a claustrophobic rural community in Newfoundland. When a body is found in the lake suspicion falls on the troubled Now family. As the mystery unfolds other, far deeper, secrets are revealed. Compassionate and wise, beautiful and brutal, The Fortunate Brother is the story of a family and a community in turmoil and confirms Donna Morrissey's place as one of Canada's foremost storytellers.… (more)

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