Lorna Crozier is a poet, anthologist, and creative writing teacher. But readers coming to her memoir seeking an account of the writing life will be disappointed. Rather, this is a book about her relationship with her immediate family, especially her parents.
The trouble is that the circumstances of Crozier’s life in Swift Current, the small Saskatchewan city where she grew up, are mostly unremarkable. The PR copy refers to “the grief and shame caused by poverty and alcoholism.” True, her parents were too poor to own a house, and their rentals sound pretty dilapidated, but they had a car and a speedboat and the family was never in danger of starving. Her father drinks, but he’s more of an after-work-beers-at-the-Legion sloppy drunk than a destructive dipsomaniac. The shame in the book is caused more by small-town status anxiety than skeletons in the closet. Through it all, Lorna does her darnedest to fit in. She gets her first period, gets bullied, gets felt up by boys, acts in the school musical, and becomes high school valedictorian. Her best friend gets pregnant and married at fifteen, so Lorna resolves to abstain from sex – and she does, until she finally marries “to break [her] maidenly state.”
The humdrumness of these events isn’t irredeemable, but the writing provides little relief. Style has never been Crozier’s forte and her prose here ranges from plodding to purple. She lacks the raconteur’s instinct for pacing and anecdotal embellishment that makes the work of such disparate memoirists as Frank McCourt and David Sedaris hum, and the only humour in the book is of the accidental variety, such as when Tiny, her brother’s poultricidal Pomeranian, is likened, sans irony, to Cerberus.
The subtitle of this book is “A Prairie Memoir,” and the best parts tend to be the interludes in which Crozier riffs on some aspect of the landscape. More of this and fewer tedious quotidian details would have been welcome. Ultimately, however, Small Beneath the Sky seems to have been written more for the author’s catharsis than the reader’s enjoyment.