Imagine the comedic possibilities if Oscar Wilde had penned a play about a foursome involving two women both romantically involved with the same two men. Such a play would have been a laugh a minute. But instead of playing the premise for laughs, Jim Tilley’s debut novel is quite serious. The main characters are united by romantic longing but divided over the issue of energy-producing wind farms. Problems involving French-English relations and the parenting of transgender children also surface but, like the wind farms, are overshadowed by the affairs of the frisky foursome.
Tilley is an expat Montrealer who has spent most of his adult life in the U.S. – currently Bedford Corners, New York. Set mainly in Quebec and Ontario, the overly ambitious Against the Wind is billed as a “contemporary novel of manners,” which would seem to evoke more of a latter-day Jane Austen. No specific time frame is stated, but readers will be able to peg the year as 2012 based on the Oscar-hopeful movies Skyfall and Argo playing in cinemas.
The novel’s most sympathetic character, Lynn, is the guardian of a transgender teen boy named Jules. Lynn lives in Picton, Ontario, having left her separatist husband, Jean-Pierre, in Montreal. Jean-Pierre is having an affair with Monique, a Parti Québécois cabinet minister. Lynn seeks a reconciliation with her estranged spouse but reconnects with an old sweetheart, Ralph, who is simultaneously wooing Monique. Can it get more tangled? Jules, alone in this story, seems to know what he wants from life and how to go about getting it.
Tilley’s slick prose manages to make the convoluted romances and fast-paced plot almost credible. Yet we never come to know the majority of the characters intimately. From afar, without the benefit of clear insight into their psychologies or motivations, we see them as little more than middle-aged figures acting like teenagers desperate to fall in love on the first date. The ending is abrupt and flat, leaving many issues unresolved.