February

book review:

February

Using the historical moment in Canada when the Ocean Ranger, an offshore drilling unit, sank in 1982 east of St. John’s, Newfoundland loosing a crew of 84, Lisa Moore’s second novel, February, establishes itself as a work of historical fiction and an elegy of loss. Helen O’Mara is left with three young children and is pregnant with a fourth when her husband and Ocean Ranger crewmember, Cal, drowns. The novel starts with a middle-aged Helen taking her grandson to get his skates sharpened, more than 20 years after Cal’s death, and continues non-linearly into moments before and after the sinking of the Ocean Ranger. These moments in time sometimes overlap and sometimes retell the same moment from a different perspective; at times imagined, they read like sketches and throughout the novel Moore writes a reality that is refracted through a variety of eyes. Her son John phones in the middle of the night from the Singapore airport and says he’s coming home; her daughters convince Helen to renovate the house, to try online dating, and to take yoga classes. In February, every sentence and image is replete with grief and death and silence as Helen describes her disbelief and denial of Cal’s death, and her attempts to go back in time and remember things differently. Helen’s consciousness is beset with ways of re-thinking events so that they might turn out another way. Many of Helen’s thoughts are lost to reveries of what Cal’s last moments on the rig could have been: “She doesn’t want him in his bunk. She wants him playing cards. She wants him with the other men.” The most poignant of Moore’s descriptions come from Helen’s meditations on death, which also take their shape from the constant metaphors of winter weather in Newfoundland, “The act of being dead, if you could call it an act, made them very hard to love. They’d lost the capacity to surprise. You needed a strong memory to love the dead, and it was not her fault that she was failing. She was trying. But no memory was that strong.” February evokes a sentiment reminiscent of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, while Helen reminds us of The Stone Angel’s Hagar, but it is the brevity of Moore’s language-not sentimental, but rather ruthless-that creates the book’s jarring honesty. As Helen desperately tries to fend off the uncontrollable memories and eddies of pain attached to Cal’s death, she searches in herself and in her children for a present that is balanced by the past and hopeful for the future for the future. (Brooke Ford)

by Lisa Moore, 320 pgs, House of Anansi Press Inc., $29.95, 288 pgs, 110 Spadina Ave, Suite 801, Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4

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