by Matthew Hooton
Toronto, ON: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
320 pp. $29.95
Small towns are often treated as simple places with simple pleasures, away from the noisy, dark desires of the city. At first glance, Matthew Hooton’s debut novel seems to follow such dichotomy, as the novel opens with“[a] berry-stained ice cream pail with a shoelace for a handle,” sitting on Deloume Road, a remote community on Vancouver Island. But by the end of the novel, such innocence becomes all but an illusion, as human tragedy seeps deeply into the landscape and alters it forever.
After the brief description of the road from an unnamed “I” narrator who addresses another unknown “you,” the narrative unfolds in a dozen alternating viewpoints from the community in limited omniscient perspective, each voice occupying a chapter.
The plot is driven mainly by four young boys: Matthew, whose curious nature combined with his responsibility of protecting his mentally challenged brother Andy, Josh, Mathew’s best friend following his lead on almost everything, and Miles Ford, the perpetually neglected child who spends most of his days wanting to reach out to others. The dark undercurrent running between the four boys turns outright violent upon the discovery of a mysterious item they dig up in an abandoned car drives the winding plot and results in the ultimate tragedy. In between the “current” situation on Deloume Road, there are brief flashbacks to the “original” tragedy of General Deloume, whose name and suicide live on to haunt the community almost a century later.
The ultimate strength of the book lies in its investment to developing unique voices for each character – Hooton gets it right with every cadence of worry, sadness, and anticipation.
The novel also successfully explores the diverse origins of a “Canadian” identity that include a First Nations artist who is also a Korean War veteran reliving the trauma of war, a Ukrainian butcher with a classic “American dream” of making a better life for him and his family in Canada, and a Korean war widow who followed her Korean-Canadian husband to make a new home in this small, still community on Vancouver Island.
Coming from a Korean background myself, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the voice of Irene Choi, who spends her time during most of the narrative navigating the radically different social decorum of a small Canadian town and grieving the sudden death of her Korean-Canadian soldier husband. Hooton’s grasp of the Korean cultural climate is both astute and accurate, revealing Irene’s quietly devastating state of culture shock. Irene’s remarks on the relationship with her neighbour Beth – “A good friend. Or was she just a good neighbour? Was there a difference in Canada?” – reveal the difficulty of the cultural in-betweener, caught on the borders of her old “home” that will no longer accept her and her new “home” which is not a home at all.
The narrative is one of the most ambitious and experimental efforts I’ve read in a while – in the opening section of the book I encountered the alternating first-and-second-person pronouns. The rest of the novel is mostly told in limited omniscient third person perspective, alternating between characters in short “chapters” that are often no longer than three pages. While such devices may appear hoaky (I’m looking at you, Da Vinci Code) in others, Hooton’s investment in the characters, coupled with his poetic prose, creates a moving and poignant story that feels genuine.
But the risks can be hindrances too. The abrupt switch in perspectives every couple pages can be initially, lacking a certain narrative centre or an anchor. The pace is a bit slow at the beginning – perhaps mimicking the slowness of communication and lifestyle of Deloume Road, where the underdeveloped General Deloume’s back story adding what feels like unnecessary complication to the already complex web of voices.
Deloume Road is a delicate novel that demands patience from the reader, as it reveals its intricacies little by little. But the patience is worth it; the heartbreaking reality of deadly outcomes resulting from altruistic motives will stay and haunt the mind.
Rosel Kim is a Masters student in English at McGill University, where she studies visual representations of queer identities on contemporary television. In her spare time, she writes about the environment and health at www.naturallysavvy.com.
Volunteers for Issue 7
For sub-editing this issue MTLS thanks:
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus
- Amanda Tripp
- Bianca Spence
- Rosel Kim
MTLS is grateful to Ian Loiselle for his hard work on web management.
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