The world young Aubrey Brown inhabits in B.C. writer Dennison Smith’s accomplished second novel is one of privilege and leisure. As a member of the affluent and influential New England Shaw-Browns, Aubrey spends his summers at a Vermont cottage on Lake Caspian, where the likes of Greta Garbo go to retreat from prying eyes. Staff ensure that Aubrey and his parents are untroubled by the domestic hassles of everyday life, but history has determined that this coddled existence cannot last forever.
The Second World War is imminent, and the momentum of progress and the greed of industry threaten to destroy not only human lives, but the natural environment as well. Amos Cobb, disfigured in a train explosion, can find no place in Aubrey’s world except as a labourer relegated to the margins of society. Profoundly connected to nature, and determined to thwart the efforts of loggers clear-cutting their way through the old forests of Vermont, Amos drives nails into the bark to bind their saws, an act of defiance that eventually has him running for his life. He and Aubrey form an unlikely friendship, for Aubrey too is an outsider, longing to “be central to his own life, not creeping around the edges.
Sent to live with his crooked uncle and alcoholic aunt following his mother’s death, a teenaged Aubrey retreats into photography, compulsively viewing the events of his life through the lens of his camera. His friendship with Amos becomes a lifeline that promises to endure long after Amos is gone.
The Eye of the Day is surprisingly beautiful in its sheer coldness, from its description of the heartless Vermont winter to the chilly and dysfunctional relationships among Aubrey and his family. Smith’s novel is a riveting narrative of survival, self-knowledge, and the possibility of second chances.