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Canterbury Beach

by Anne Simpson

Anne Simpson’s debut novel unfolds like a long letter from an old friend. In Canterbury Beach, the Nova Scotian poet turns her attention to the quiet stories that lie at the heart of families.

Verna and Allister, who are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, their son Spike, daughter Evelyn and daughter-in-law Robin head down to Maine for the family’s annual summer trek. Along for the ride are their various differences and disappointments, their slights real and imagined, as well as the ghosts of Neil, Robin’s husband who stayed behind to conduct an affair, and Garnet, the long absent son who may or may not be waiting for them in Maine.

Simpson’s third-person narrative shifts skilfully to focus on the various members of the extended family, filling in details of story and character and maintaining narrative tension by never revealing too much about the characters. Though she delves deeply into each character’s life, the voice here is Simpson’s, poetic yet spare, with an easy balance of human emotion and natural symbolism.

Through it all, she achieves a compelling intimacy, not only among her characters, but also between story and reader. She traffics here in small truths – Verna realizes, at the book’s end, that Neil will return: “Neil would come back to them sooner or later. It was the way families went. She felt herself larger, as if she were large enough to hold them.” But those small truths are administered now gently, now all in a rush, arrived at through the hard work of distilled experience – just the way you might learn them from your family or an old, old friend.


Reviewer: Stephanie Domet

Publisher: Penguin Books Canada


Price: $29.99

Page Count: 306 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-89484-2

Released: Feb.

Issue Date: 2001-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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