At first glance, Myrna Dey’s debut novel offers a familiar set-up: a modern-day city slicker finds a packet of letters written by her great-grandmother Jane, a Welsh immigrant battling poverty and loneliness amid the misery of a Vancouver Island mining town. The exploration of a character’s identity through the prism of an ancestor’s life is a popular conceit in Canadian literature, but Dey injects new life into it. Extensions is an engrossing story that includes sex and romance, murder and larceny, and a smattering of Canadian history.
Arabella, an RCMP officer adrift after losing her mother and getting dumped by her boyfriend, fills her spare time trying to figure out how a photo of her great-grandmother and great-great aunt – twins separated in early childhood – ended up in a Saskatchewan garage sale. As Arabella reads letters her great-grandmother sent home to Wales 100 years ago, she discovers that Jane witnessed a murder that has gone unsolved all this time. The cold case is crying out for a good detective to solve it. A good detective like Arabella.
The stark contrast between Arabella’s modern life – marked by independence, education, and a stimulating career – and Jane’s life of privation and quashed dreams gives each woman’s story greater depth. The fleeting nature of life and joy is revisited in both narratives, illustrating that despite their differences in external circumstances, the two women share similar concerns.
In combining the two stories, Dey has written a compelling novel that manages to revivify familiar CanLit motifs.