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The Momentum of Red

by Monica Kidd

Fathers and daughters. Of all the permutations of family that novelists tend to fixate on, this is one of the least explored. Why that should be is unclear, since there is potentially just as much drama between fathers and daughters as between fathers and sons, ill-matched sisters, or a domineering rich grandmother and her generations of greedy progeny. Madame Bovary begins with an interesting father-daughter relationship, but Flaubert has other fish to fry, and Emma’s sire, old Rouault, is soon reduced to a walk-on role with a turkey under his arm.

Part of the problem are the inherent silences between girls and their dads. Traditionally girls have chatty, flirty, snuggly relationships with Daddy until their bodies start changing. The unwritten taboo about physical contact between men and their adolescent daughters seems to erase verbal and emotional contact as well, leaving unresolved tensions in the air that mothers try – usually unsuccessfully – to alleviate. Later in life, when daughters grow up and have babies of their own, they often find their way back into meaningful relationships with their mothers, but much less often with their fathers.

So what happens if there is no mother in the family to act as a bridge between father and daughter? That is the situation Monica Kidd has chosen to imagine in this stolid-but-likeable novel of rural Alberta life. Randy is a long-haul trucker who falls in love with a schoolteacher named Ros. They marry and conceive a child, but Ros does not survive her daughter Mary’s birth. Determined to raise the girl himself, Randy narrates: “I certainly wasn’t going to be strapped with a house-bound ninny, and seeing as how we were in for the long haul, I at least wanted her to be decent company.” As soon as she can sit up, Mary becomes Randy’s companion in the rig. Her thousands of hours roaming the Alberta and B.C. landscapes turn her not into a trucker, but a painter.

When we first meet Mary, she is 21. She works at the IGA, still lives at home with Randy, and spends most of her free time swapping sexual quips with her girlfriends Sara and Tina. A reporter named Darren shows up to do a local story, and before long Mary is taking him home to meet her protective, cautious Dad. They move in together, with Randy making them a gift of the first month’s rent. A huge amount of sex and not much else goes on between the young couple, ending – you guessed it – in pregnancy.

The book’s thin plot boils down to the usual questions: Will Darren do a bunk or hang around for fatherhood? Will Randy accept him as his grandchild’s father or blow his head off with his hunting rifle? Will Mary have the baby or quietly dispose of it?

It turns out, though, that what really interests Kidd is male violence toward women, and how that makes other men behave. Randy tells us that when he first met Ros, she was running away from an abusive partner in Calgary. Randy can’t settle into his love for Ros until he has driven to the city, found her abuser, and watched him lining up a new piece of female prey. On the way home, he clips a great horned owl with his car, gets out, and wrings the dying bird’s neck. It’s a powerfully symbolic moment, encompassing his rage at the galoot back in Calgary, his empathy for his wounded wife, and his own submerged violence. Darren, naturally, turns out to have served time for domestic abuse himself, which puts Randy back in the same helpless stew of emotions, vis à vis his daughter, that he went through with his wife.

Kidd is very good at capturing the fear that men like Darren instill in their women. He grabs Mary’s wrist and won’t let go. “Mary. The best thing for you to do is relax. We’re just having a little chat here. It’s good to chat, don’t you think? Or am I only a good lay to you? Women these days.” This kind of talk is scary as hell, but it doesn’t send Mary scurrying home to Dad. What sends her home eventually is the discovery of a condom wrapper in Darren’s car. The fact that sexual betrayal makes her act when the threat of violence didn’t has the unfortunate ring of authenticity.

When Mary does arrive home, frozen and distraught, Randy brings her in, warms her, makes tea, takes her up to her childhood bedroom to sleep. Although the words “What did he do, Mary?” are clamouring in his throat “like anxious, snarling dogs,” not a word is exchanged between father and daughter on this most traumatic night of her life.

Silence, it turns out, can mean other things besides estrangement and tension. It can also be a sign of the deepest kind of love.