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Ten Good Seconds of Silence

by Elizabeth Ruth

Lilith Boot, a clairvoyant child-finder, is at the centre of Ten Good Seconds of Silence, a first novel that employs memory, perception, and identity as its central metaphors. As a detective for the Metropolitan Toronto Police, Lilith uses her psychic abilities to locate missing children, and as a way of avoiding the memories of her own traumatic past. The narrative alternates between the time Lilith spent as a teenager at a Vancouver mental institution – where she was placed by her overbearing mother and pushover father – and the present, where, besides her police work, she is struggling to raise a daughter, Lemon, on her own.

Lilith is an appealing character. A large woman with a larger personality, she expounds a sort of psychic therapy blended with herbalism. Lilith finds solace and visions in gardens and greenhouses, and much of the novel’s descriptive passages are rife with earth and flower references. These desciptions tend toward the unruly and overgrown, padding the prose unnecessarily in places. Lilith’s unorthodox parenting techniques and general eccentricity, combined with her refusal to talk about Lemon’s father, make for a troubled teenagehood for her own daughter. Lemon’s feelings of emptiness eventually lead her to an eating disorder, and to seek out a form of guidance her mother cannot abide: psychotherapy.

As the narrative unfolds, characters struggle to overcome problems that originate in the past (abusive mothers and fathers, confusion surrounding sexual orientation, rape), and the “issue soup” that results is, at times, overwhelming in its constant articulation. Ruth also emphasizes different forms of healing, and this focus, although intriguing as a premise, occasionally results in an off-putting psychological pedantry. But despite its occasional heavy-handedness, Ten Good Seconds of Silence is lifted by its quirky characters, plot twists, and ambitious vision.