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The Stubborn Season

by Lauren B. Davis

Lauren Davis’s debut novel, The Stubborn Season, is as close as you’d want to get to the Depression without being there. At the novel’s heart is a small Toronto family, the MacNeills, but the narrative also crosses Canada, surveying the growing damage from the squalour of a B.C. relief camp to anti-Semitic riots in Toronto to a perilous Nova Scotia mine. In Regina, Mounties break heads at a demonstration. In Saskatchewan, 14-year-old David Hirsch leaves his Jewish farming community to ride the rails and is robbed by hardened fellow travellers just hours from home.

Davis parallels the dark economic times with a growing crisis in the MacNeill family. Margaret MacNeill hasn’t been happy since she was abandoned by a boyfriend who returned from the Great War a changed man. Now 10 years married to solid, dependable Douglas MacNeill, she is overwhelmed by mental illness. Douglas makes frequent recourse to a whisky flask. Irene, a sturdy, sensitive 10-year-old, is a near-prisoner of her mother’s sick fears. Irene’s friend Ebbie tries to help, but Ebbie’s only a kid. Margaret’s brother sees what’s going on, but he’s busy fighting the bosses.

Davis’s meticulous research informs everything from what’s on the drugstore shelves and in the funny papers to what’s on everyone’s minds. The writing is clean, direct, and efficient; but for the first third of the novel, The Stubborn Season can be tough going. The Depression is a hard era to like, and these bealeaguered characters are hard to warm to – especially Douglas, who flunks every opportunity to rescue his daughter from her mother’s illness.

We eventually bond to Irene after it becomes clear that she’s going to survive her poisoned environment. Margaret and her struggles gradually move from being merely pitiful and unpleasant to interesting. Remarkably, in spite of such dire circumstances, Davis makes us believe that the following generation can come through the Depression with little damage, still trusting and resourceful, and stronger for having lived through this grim, stubborn season.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: HarperFlamingo Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 340 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200502-8

Released: May

Issue Date: 2002-6

Categories: Fiction: Novels