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The Pelee Project: One Woman’s Escape from Urban Madness

by Jane Christmas

A near-fatal car crash served as a wake-up call for Jane Christmas, then an editor at The National Post, a twice-divorced single mother of three, and a long-distance commuter. Her life had been a crushing tempo of “scheduling problems,” breathless running around, and a growing sense of meaninglessness – a life undoubtedly recognizable by thousands of urban can-and-will-do-it-all women.

With no explicit goal in mind other than a desire for finding “new simplicity,” even if just for a while, Jane sold her house in the city and moved to the scarcely populated and culturally isolated Pelee Island with her daughter Zoë. Her reports from the island on Lake Erie were first published as a series in the Post. Christmas’s story is told in a style of personal history, in an honest, occasionally self-effacing, first-person narrative.

The writing is often amusing and self-deprecating, but the expected self-disclosure and soul searching that comes with the “lifestyle sabbatical” genre is lacking. Christmas offers up a good list of further readings on such subjects as intuitive medicine and the new simplicity movement, but she ignores the nuances of her own supposedly transformative journey. Readers glide along the surface of events, occasionally sensing the unfolding depths just below, but the narrative quickly retreats back to the safety of the shallow end. The search for deeper sense of self is too often reduced to boomer-inspired life management concept.

The idea of shedding one’s calendar-driven self in search of possible spiritual and emotional regeneration sounds appealing, even if deceptively simplistic. But there is no real transormative learning here. If the journey has been profound for its protagonist, the telling of it remains safely and politely banal.