Three years ago, under the trees in Linden Gardens, Penticton author Frances Greenslade read from her unfinished manuscript. I was captivated. The writing was so clear and precise that months later I could recall exact details of a yellow poplar leaf caught in the truck’s windshield wiper, and a forest outside gently raining dying leaves.
The story fragments bubbled up in my memory often enough that I eventually contacted Greenslade, asking her to let me know when the book was finished. And at long last, Shelter will be on store shelves for everyone to enjoy.
My wait was nothing compared to the gestation period of Shelter. Greenslade first began working on the book shortly after her mother’s death in 1992. Now backed by a major publishing house, and with strong, vivid writing reminiscent of great Canadian writers like Ann-Marie MacDonald, I suspect Shelter’s timeline will stretch on much further.
Maggie and Jenny live in the rustic, rural Chilcotin valley in the early ‘70s. After their father is involved in a logging accident, their mother, Irene, abruptly leaves town. She drops the girls in Williams Lake to billet with a gloomy acquaintance and her wheelchair-bound husband. Irene never returns.
Both girls deal with the uncertain and at times desperate situation in radically different ways. But rather than mining the girls’ plight for pathetic effect, Greenslade’s tone skirts around darkness, remaining poignantly melancholic and yet underlain with hope.
Shelter is a basic human requirement. Greenslade explores myriad aspects of shelter, including the extent to which parents are obligated to provide shelter for their children.
“Maggie and Jenny began to haunt my imagination, and I began to think about lost mothers and about mothers who make choices that don’t necessarily have to do with their children,” Greenslade says about writing the book. “The unspoken question in both Maggie and Jenny’s minds is: ‘Did she choose this?’ They want their mother to be fine, but Maggie realizes that if she’s fine, that’s even worse. What would that mean? That she was staying away intentionally?” The Chilcotin is a beautiful, but raw, landscape.
“It’s a place where people made the choice to leave behind their old lives, and disappear into what was really still a wild frontier,” said Greenslade. By capturing the place so perfectly, Greenslade allows you to disappear into a story with a clear, visceral beauty of its own.
Shelter will be in bookstores on Aug. 23, and will have its Penticton launch on Sept.15 at 7 p.m. in Okanagan College. Visit www.francesgreenslade.com/ for more info.
Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton. firstname.lastname@example.org