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Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents, within hours of each other, jump off two different bridges--the result of their separate involvements with the same compelling neighbor, a Halifax switchboard operator and aspiring actress. The suicides cause Wyatt to move to small-town Middle Economy to live with his uncle, aunt, and ravishing cousin Tilda.
Setting in motion the novel's chain of life-altering passions and the wartime perfidy at its core is the arrival of the German student Hans Mohring, carrying only a satchel. Actual historical incidents--including a German U-boat's sinking of the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland ferry Caribou, on which Aunt Constance Hillyer might or might not be traveling--lend intense narrative power to Norman's uncannily layered story.Wyatt's account of the astonishing--not least to him--events leading up to his fathering of a beloved daughter spills out twenty-one years later. It's a confession that speaks profoundly of the mysteries of human character in wartime and is directed, with both despair and hope, to an audience of one.
An utterly stirring novel. This is Howard Norman at his celebrated best.
As my sainted grandmother used to say, with a hard look right straight at 12-year-old, misbehaving me, let's not mince words here. Okay, let's not: Howard Norman's new novel, What Is Left the Daughter, is the best story of love in the time of war I've ever read. And yes, that includes Cold Mountain and A Farewell To Arms.
It's the early 1940s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. World War II, in all its fury, has come to Canada, as the dreaded German U-boats are sinking ferries and passenger ships just off the coast. In the meantime, 17-year-old Wyatt Hillyer's parents, caught up in a love triangle in which they've both fallen for a local switchboard operator and aspiring actress, have without warning leapt to their deaths "from separate bridges in Halifax on the same evening." Bereft and adrift, Wyatt soon moves to the tiny Bay of Fundy outport of Middle Economy, to work in his uncle's sled and toboggan shop.
It will come as no surprise to Norman's readers to learn that, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's jungle-village of Macondo, Middle Economy is a universe unto itself. What's more, its residents are every bit as strange and wondrous. For starters, there's kindly, plain-spoken Cornelia Tell, a one-woman Greek chorus of information and assessments. The town's aspiring stenographer, Lenore Teachout, takes down every conversation she overhears, and even transcribes the most awful war news over the radio. The casualty reports so distress Wyatt's eccentric uncle that he's papered the side of his toboggan shop with newspaper accounts of ships sunk by U-boats. Wyatt's beautiful, adopted cousin, Tilda, is obsessed by obituaries. Her dream in life is to become a "professional mourner" at the funerals of people who die without family or friends.
When Hans Mohring, a likable young refugee from Hitler's Germany, visits Middle Economy and falls in love with Tilda, all hell breaks loose in the village, including the bloodiest and most shocking murder in recent fiction, the strangest (and, in places, funniest) courtroom sequence I've ever read, and the unspeakably sorrowful, total dissolution of the Hillyer family.
Or does Wyatt's beloved family come totally unraveled in the onslaught of the war and its madness? Suffice it to say that What Is Left the Daughter, which is structured as a long letter from Wyatt, written in 1967 to his 21-year-old daughter, just may hold out the prospect of a transcendent love so powerful and enduring that it affirms the value and meaning of our lives even in the worst of times and despite all of our tragic flaws.
What Is Left the Daughter affirms what many of Howard Norman's readers have known since he published his magical first novel, The Northern Lights. Norman is most certainly one of America's three or four best novelists, with a uniquely wise and tolerant vision of his characters and all human beings everywhere. So let's not mince words. What Is Left the Daughter is a literary masterpiece that will, I guarantee it, live on in your heart, and mine, forever.
I didn't really care for it too much. Too many characters. I guess I just read better books, that kept my interest.Published 1 month ago by Sandra Kalmerton
Howard Norman doesn't disappoint with this novel. I found this story so compelling that I read it in one evening. Read morePublished 6 months ago by happy gardener
opens up the "soul" of Nova Scotia earth, water, and people
a subtle yet powerful anti-war work
this is a true gem
This book is very well written but the story was sad.... Wyatt is a quiet young man who has learned that his parents both commit suicide hours apart. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Courtney Ann
I don't like to read the same old formulaic book. Thank you.It's good to have a new viewpoint, a new take on things. Read morePublished 7 months ago by jcp
This novel has offbeat characters and an unusual plot revolving around Canadian anti-German sentiment and how it affected one family with tragic consequences. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Noseeums
The story is told by a man who does nothing while events take place around him. Everyone else has a 'life'. He is an observer who is then remorseful. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Joan E. Hartsough
Not sure why this book was written - confusing, frustrating at times it just seemed like the author was babbling onPublished 8 months ago by annelle prefontaine
I really enjoyed reading this book, it kept my interest, however the ending left me without knowing what happened. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Reader 523