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The Topography of Love

by Bernice Morgan

In her novels Random Passage and Waiting for Time, Bernice Morgan delved into the Newfoundland of long ago, telling the engaging story of an outport’s first families and their struggle to survive and settle. With her debut collection of stories, The Topography of Love, Morgan takes her reader to the Newfoundland of today.

As in her earlier books, Morgan’s language here is clear and unadorned, but where her novels were propelled largely by compelling plot, these stories succeed on nuance, character, scraps of dialogue that tempt the ear. In part one of this volume, unconnected stories ring with the lonesome, mournful truth of hard lives hewed out of Newfoundland rock. In “Moments of Grace,” a woman confides to her closest friends that her husband was not what he seemed – and they discover that she wasn’t either. In “Folding Bones,” a mother moves back to St. John’s with her son, only to come up hard against memory and grief and loss. Determined to move away again, she is forced by circumstances to confront her past, to survive it, and to settle.

In part two, Morgan leads her reader through six linked stories that present the dissolute lives of families and neighbours, intrinsically connected through lust, madness, loneliness, longing, and misunderstanding. In some places, the links are tenuous, and the section’s tiny unfoldings reward the careful reader. The book ends on a note of fluttering hope that alleviates – and throws into sharp relief – the bleakness of some of the earlier pieces.

In one story, a woman wryly notes that Newfoundland has suddenly become a place of glamour to the rest of the world. In this collection, Newfoundland simply is what it is: setting, character, motivation, muse. Morgan’s tales could unravel anywhere, one supposes, but then they wouldn’t be so lively, so infused, so dramatically real.