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Raising Orion

by Lesley Choyce

An enigmatic woman named Molly is the subject of prolific Nova Scotia writer Lesley Choyce’s newest novel. Raising Orion describes Molly’s childhood as the daughter of the last lighthouse keeper on an isolated island off Canada’s East Coast, as well as her present-day life as an autodidact and second-hand bookseller in Halifax.

Choyce’s writing is lush and evocative, particularly when focused on Molly’s childhood. (One scene, in which Molly and her parents find bodies near their island after a plane crash, is particularly vivid and disturbing.) The story is replete with Canadian locations and historic events, but the writing has an otherworldly quality that resembles a fairy tale.

This could be an asset, but the author squanders the potential of his chosen narrative mode. More attention is paid to the setting and backstory than to advancing the plot. Choyce is clearly enamoured with his protagonist, but as a result he has a hard time backing away from her long enough to flesh out other characters, such as the ­academic Eric Walker and a young cancer patient named Todd.

Molly’s backstory occupies a larger section of the book than the contemporary plot strand, which fails to carry any force. There is little forward momentum, and the climax, during which Molly is caught in an inappropriate act with the young cancer patient, causes only a blip in the lives of the characters, rather than the earthshaking consequences it should provoke.

Choyce has written more than 70 books for adults, teens, and children, and there is no doubt he has ability and talent. But the complete range of his skills isn’t in evidence here.