Brian Thomas Isaac’s All the Quiet Places transports the reader across time and space to a, well, quiet corner of the Okanagan Indian Reserve in the southern Interior of British Columbia in 1956. There, six-year-old Eddie lives with his mother, Grace, and younger brother, Lewis, isolated from most of their community except for his grandmother and maternal uncle, who live in close proximity. All the Quiet Places begins the summer before Eddie enters first grade and follows him into his teens as he experiences bullying as a visibly Indigenous (Syilx) child at his majority-white school, explores his feelings for his white neighbours’ daughter, and endures the return of his absentee father, Jimmy, and the tumult Jimmy creates in their home life.
A lack of electricity – despite Grace’s letters to the Indian Office – means that the quiet places Eddie inhabits are not punctured by the sounds of televisions, radios, or record players. Instead, they are punctuated by the whispering tree leaves, the whooshing water, the chirping birds, the buzzing insects, and the occasional crunch of tires on gravel when the Indian agent visits.
Isaac’s detailed yet direct prose evokes a tranquil world that lulls the reader into a false sense of security. There are fine cracks in this secure world and Isaac provides small yet distinct red flags before shattering it completely with death and loss.
Death is a common motif in the book. The reoccurrence of death underlines the continuities of Eddie’s childhood and adolescence, as well as the parallels between Eddie’s life and the lives of his loved ones. Death also often ushers Eddie into a new phase in his life, signifying upheaval and trauma, rather than rebirth.
On its surface, All the Quiet Places seems like the coming-of-age story of a young boy learning how to live in a world where he is unwelcome. While it is that, its third-person perspective also enables the novel to illustrate how the systemic oppression of colonialism results in a cycle of poverty and trauma that erodes entire families and eventually entire communities.
Isaac steps effortlessly into the shoes of young Eddie. Though All the Quiet Places is Isaac’s first novel, the writing is precise and assured. Through Eddie’s honest – and sometimes apathetic – observations of the world around him, Isaac deftly captures how the angst and uncertainty that bubble within children can quickly boil over when face to face with social inequity and oppression. Once this anger is unleashed, Isaac illustrates, it corrodes the individual, and even their present and future loved ones.
Equal parts enchanting and agonizing, All the Quiet Places is an exceptional debut that not only transports the reader but also transforms them.