By Elaine Burns
This is the third of Mary Lawson’s novels set in the fictional northern town of Struan. We are talking a northern Ontario, nostril-freezing small town. Not Muskoka, as held by those in the GTA as being ‘up north’.
Small towns are not unfamiliar to Mary Lawson as she was raised in one in southwestern Ontario. She studied Psychology at McGill University and worked for many years as an Industrial Psychologist, mostly in England, and it was not until her 50s that she turned her hand to novel writing.
This was by her own admission a slow and painful process. Nevertheless she has penned three: Crow Lake, The Other Side of the Bridge, and Road Ends. Her work has won critical acclaim worldwide.
Road Ends, set in the 1950s, is a look at the struggles of the Crawford family. It, like all her books, deals with the human struggle to deal with the past, cope with the present and struggle to find a future.
The Crawfords are nine in number: mother, father and seven children. The father is a capable, well-thought-of banker in the town of Struan until work is over and then he retreats to his study to contemplate his boyhood with an abusive father. His main fear in life is that he will be just like him and so he hides away from family life.
His wife is never happier than when pregnant and newly into motherhood. She is not so interested once the baby starts to become independent and seeks a new pregnancy, something her husband says he “cannot deny her”.
There is a set of twins that have left and are in the Services, flying somewhere with the RCAF.
Tom is the eldest at home and he is almost catatonic in dealing with the loss of his best friend by suicide. Although he had been enrolled in Aerospace Technology at U of T, his life is now diminished to snowplough driving and newspaper reading. The latter is accomplished with the chair back facing the family to achieve isolation.
The only daughter runs the household, and has absolute authority with the remaining children. She is, however, constantly planning to leave home and Struan and never look back.
Two younger brothers are so problematic but inseparable. They make you wish that humans could sometimes be like guppies and eat their young.
The youngest, Adam, is four years old, abandoned by all and keeping a low profile. He will be the family’s change agent.
Mom gets pregnant again, and escapes into a netherworld. Dad reads an old diary from his mother and is forced to really look at his relationship with his father and all that brings.
Tom, having discovered Adam and all his needs, slowly looks beyond himself.
Megan, the daughter, moves to England and is successful in planning and running a small hotel.
Adam continues to keep his head low but is grateful for all he receives.
The troubling twosome continue to knock heads with the world.
Through all this Struan proves its consistency, both in devastating weather and in relentless presence.
THE VERDICT: 5 RECOMMEND
By Mary Lawson, published by Alfred a. Knopf, Canada, 2013