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by Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett’s second novel captures the uneasy existence of a Canadian dynasty, as biographer Trudy Clarke attempts to make a name for herself by writing the definitive tell-all about the Aspinalls, a wealthy family that is equal parts Black, Asper, and Thomson. Central to the story is the sudden disappearance of ne’er-do-well son Colin Aspinall and his relationship with Andy Kronk, a hockey-playing boy who enters the Aspinall’s circle of influence.
    Bennett fills out the story with some familiar figures – the toiling biographer on the periphery of the lives she chronicles; the patriarch, whose menace is hinted at but never explained; the alienated son who is symbolically ruined by excess in America; and the indolent daughter whose pedigree is secondary to that of her American fiancé. Along with all that, there are many references to the northern climate and to the destruction of what little history we Canadians share. The characters seem intended to stand in for pieces of our national consciousness, as understood in a first-year CanLit class. (Clarke often feels like a character from an early Atwood novel.) It’s a little too pat, though some readers may respond to the comfortable predictability of these shapes.
    The mystery itself is told with conscientious pacing and an eerie final twist. Bennett is at his best describing Colin and Andy’s tender, troubled relationship. And of all his characters, Andy is the most intriguing, with his shunning of authority and comfortable acceptance of isolation. Arguably, this is what Bennett was going for all along – to run all of these Canadian figures through their paces and let the outsider cause a class collision. But that collision isn’t nearly as sharp or shocking as it could be, shackled as Bennett is to the story’s central device.