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The Wisdom of Water

by Karen Hood-Caddy

The setting in The Wisdom of Water isn’t Walkerton, Ontario, site of one of the country’s worst environmental disasters, but it’s eerily similar: tainted water from an outdated treatment plant, malfunctioning equipment, and an irresponsible plant manager.

Karen Hood-Caddy’s third novel in her environmental trilogy has psychotherapist/environmentalist Jessie Dearborn facing more than the failing health of her beloved Lake Muskoka. Dearborn wades through several environmental mishaps, including a cottager who dumps toxic waste on the roadside, a resort owner who blasts a beaver dam, and the inevitable E. coli outbreak. Dearborn’s preaching slows the plot intially, but the pace soon accelerates.

Hood-Caddy has peopled her novel with a broad range of vivid characters. There are the “good” characters, such as the high-strung Elfy, one of the environmentalist Guerrilla Grannies. Elfy’s calm opposite is Harley, Dearborn’s life partner, who follows the intuitive and spiritual ways of his Anishinaabe ancestry.

The not-so-good characters include Dan, who has dodged responsibility all his life. Once he showed initiative by creating a successful cartoon, “InkBoy,” but his father condemned it and then suffered a non-fatal heart attack. His domineering father eventually hires him as water treatment manager in Port Carling. It’s a new beginning for Dan – and the start of all his old baggage coming back to haunt him and the town.

The novel is told from Dearborn and Dan’s points of view, but a third character, Lake Muskoka, has the greatest effect on Port Carling’s inhabitants. They can’t live with or without the lake. The lesson of the tainted water is timely, not only because it parallels the scandal in Walkerton, but because water on planet Earth is fast becoming too polluted and too scarce, with other countries already eyeing Canada’s water resources. The Wisdom of Water serves as an environmental warning and a good read.