At some point in every person’s life, the question of a legacy arises. What will be left for those to come, and what for those left behind? For some, this translates as possessions; for others, simply memory is enough. Wyatt Hillyer’s legacy is the truth of his own life, set down in a letter to a daughter he never knew. The only thing he can leave her is the key to a tangled web that surrounds her earliest moments and the time leading up to her creation. The tapestry of Wyatt’s profound letter is woven from complicated threads, including two parents driven to simultaneous, but separate, suicides over the love of one woman; an itinerant German student’s arrival during a time of intense xenophobia; an uncle driven mad by the coming war; a ferry sunk by a German U-boat; and an unrequited love for an adopted cousin. 

Mainly set in the years immediately prior to World War II in the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada, Wyatt’s stirring tale is at once human and grand. Visited by unthinkable tragedy, brief glimpses of joy and the slow grind of life, Howard Norman’s tale washes over the reader like the sea laps at stones on a beach as the tide comes in. Slowly drawn deeper into the life of a man forced to do the best with what he had, the reader finds suddenly that, like Wyatt, he is treading water while everyone else has moved further up the shore.

The quiet power of this book comes on slowly and unrelentingly, offering a mesmerizing look into one man’s past. Creating one of the most captivating and effective uses of the retrospective letter format in recent memory, Norman’s prose is understated, eloquent and perfectly chosen, and his novel paints a picture of one man’s legacy that will not soon be lost.

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