Readers familiar with Miriam Toews’s earnest rendering of suicide’s complexities and heartbreak in All My Puny Sorrows will appreciate Alice Zorn’s admirable second novel for its equally sober depiction of the lasting impact the act can have on family members. Zorn’s book is not solely about suicide, however. Five Roses (the title refers to the iconic Farine Five Roses sign in Montreal) tells the stories of three women with complicated histories, each of whom is longing for a new beginning.
After Fara and her husband buy a rundown home in the atmospheric neighbourhood of Pointe St. Charles, they learn that the son of the previous resident hanged himself from the living-room doorframe. Fara is confronted by feelings she thought she had conquered in the aftermath of her sister Claire’s suicide. Fara’s new neighbour, Maddy, whose life has also been touched by tragedy, helps Fara realize she has “let Claire’s death and the way she died totally eclipse her life.”
Maddy has lived in the house next door since she arrived in Montreal 27 years earlier, at which time she was a teenager with a newborn and the residence was home to a commune. Not long after Maddy’s arrival, her baby was kidnapped. All these years later, Maddy is still struggling to forgive herself for not doing more to recover her lost child.
Early in the novel, we learn that Rose, a socially awkward newcomer to the city, is the now-grown child Maddy lost. Through their mutual friendship with Yushi – a peripheral and rather enigmatic figure who will nonetheless prove critical for the narrative – Rose and Maddy enter each other’s lives, though they remain unaware of the special bond they share.
Zorn soulfully articulates the pain of her characters, but also their remarkable resiliency and resourcefulness. All three women in this understated, thoughtful novel are hardworking, creative, self-aware, and genuinely hopeful individuals. Much like the Pointe itself – a locale for which Zorn has an obvious affection – their lives hold the promise of transformation.