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Author Valerie Compton to read as part of Lorenzo Reading Series

Author: Communications

Posted on Mar 29, 2011

Category: Events , UNB Saint John

Author Valerie Compton will read from her novel, Tide Road on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m. in the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre.

Valerie Compton is the author of numerous short stories, published in The Malahat Review, The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, Riddle Fence, Grain, and other journals. Her non-fiction appears in The Globe and Mail, National Post, The Citizen and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an Island Literary Award for non-fiction and was shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award for fiction. Her debut novel, a mystery story, is a complex meditation on family.

The reading is hosted by the Lorenzo Reading Series and the UNB Saint John Bookstore, and supported by The Canada Council for the Arts. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. For more information contact The University Bookstore at (506) 648-5540, inprint at (506) 648-2315, or email sjbooks@unbsj.ca.

About the novel, Tide Road

In the film-like first chapter of Tide Road, someone goes missing: Stella – the eldest, married daughter of Sonia MacAusland – has disappeared. A search party works through the night. Whereas the RCMP concludes that Stella’s body is in the river, a mishap on the ice, Sonia fiercely holds to the idea that Stella’s run off. For months she is in the grip of this idea, making endless phone calls to taxi companies, railway stations, ferry workers and Toronto boarding houses. Before that busyness though, in the immediate days following Stella’s disappearance and the memorial service, Sonia takes to her bed or drifts distractedly through the house. “Mum is somewhere else,” she overhears her daughter Rose say. “Somewhere else” is the past, the early 1940s when, recently married to Max MacAusland, Sonia had been the unofficial lighthouse keeper – his job, really – on Surplus Island in Malpeque Bay, a tiny uninhabited island connected to PEI by a tide road, a road that comes and goes with the tide – like “clockwork.” Max, who had appeared at her father’s lighthouse in Pointe d’Espoir, Quebec, had desperately wanted a job other than what he had – crewmember on the lightship Brilliant, a “floating beacon moored permanently in dangerous shallows opposite Cap-aux-Morts.”

Sonia’s father arranges Max’s posting to Surplus Island, work that Max leaves to the thoroughly capable Sonia while he manages his uncle’s farm some miles inland. A school-trained artist, Sonia, though isolated and lonely by times, is enthralled by the shifting lines and colours of sea, sky, and dunes, an attentiveness she shares with Pete Cope, a McGill medical student who sometimes bicycles on Surplus Island.

Because of her work, and because of her artist’s eye, Sonia is a watcher of landscape and weather. Encyclopaedic in sensual detail, Tide Road, in its immense perceptual acuity, favours the visual. This is a novel about seeing. Stella, who was the victim of a childhood farm accident, is half-sighted, without depth perception. When she disappears, Sonia realizes she had not understood – perhaps not even bothered to think about – the grey, flat world within which her daughter moved. Seeing, in this novel, refers, however, to more than physical sight or aesthetic attentiveness. Seeing where one’s responsibility lies is at the heart of the narrative. Far from a rural idyll, Tide Road – clear-sighted and tough-minded for all its beauty – is an anatomy of motherhood. Sonia’s look-back uncovers truths that go beyond the imprisoning nature of marriage at mid-century.