Europa. Apr. 2020. 464p. ISBN 9781609455750. pap. $18. F
DEBUT Felicia, a 19-year old from “a small unrecognized island” in the Caribbean, discovers Edgar, an older German businessman, in the hospital room to which both of their ailing elderly mothers have been assigned. What transpires from this fateful meeting is a lifetime of connections, multiple misunderstandings, and a child. Add to the mix Felicia’s landlord, Oliver, and his children, and this novel by Canadian poet Williams becomes a sprawling family history. Says Army, Felicia and Edgar’s son, “People fall into other people’s arms, you know.” As in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, the family narrative allows Williams to dig deeply into the culture and events of the time—in this case, Brampton, Ontario, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Award for this work, Williams creatively and masterfully intersperses poetry, dialog, humor, pregnant asides, music lyrics, and descriptive passages to reveal what is going on inside the characters’ heads and outside in the world around them.
VERDICT There is a breathless quality to the novel, and at times Williams appears to take on too much. Nevertheless, this work successfully examines major themes of empathy, responsibility, secrecy, race, multiculturalism, misogyny, and honesty.
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