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Turtle Valley

by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s third novel begins in Turtle Valley in the B.C. interior, where narrator Kat has come to help her parents move out of their house in advance of a nearby forest fire. Accompanying Kat is her husband, Ezra, whose recent stroke has turned him into an accidental poet/manchild, and their son, Jeremy.

No sooner has Kat landed in the valley than her old flame Jude, a tortured and thwarted artistic type much like Kat, turns up next door. As if that weren’t enough, Kat unearths the mysterious circumstances of her grandfather’s death on the mountain decades earlier and the equally mysterious details of her grandmother’s life.

If you’re counting, that makes at least three narrative threads all relating to fire: the forest fire, Kat’s inner passion for another man, and the mystery surrounding her grandparents’ tumultuous marriage. Fire destroys, yet fire sustains. Get it? Unfortunately, Anderson-Dargatz doesn’t think we will, so she hammers the metaphor home whenever she can. The result is a book that feels like a short story filled out with chaff about cats, grandma’s old stuff, dead things, pottery, and – of all things – the sensual properties of fudge.

Kat’s story is positively runny with descriptions of emotions, memories, and sensual experiences that never fully congeal into a novel you might recommend to the book club.