Quill and Quire

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Waterborne

by Joanne Soper-Cook

Like Frederico Garcia Lorca and playwrights Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge, Newfoundland writer Joanne Soper-Cook instinctively understands the deep-rooted relationship between person and place. No matter where people find themselves, we are told, they can never escape where they came from. Soper-Cook takes this simple, folkloric notion and weaves it into a fractious tale of alarming tones that echo the past and consume the present.

Stella Maris Goulding is at the centre of Soper-Cook’s third novel, Waterborne, a narrative storm of shifting viewpoints. The only child of Minerva Bristow, Stella lives in a small Newfoundland outport “with the fantastic name of Elsinore.” After years of yearning for affection and acceptance from her mother, and filled with the selkie myths and legends her Scottish maternal grandmother told to her, Stella leaves Elsinore in an attempt to eke out an existence free from the constraints of the past. What ensues is a potent, painful tale ripe with disillusion and familiarity.

Soper-Cook moves effortlessly from one voice to the next, from grandmother to mother to daughter. The women’s distinctive lines occasionally blur, making it difficult to discern who has taken control of the narrative. But the women and their intricately entwined lives are deftly realized, their personalities penetrating the story like vinegar – both pungent and appealing. Soper-Cook understands the power women wield, the tenacity and passion that are handed down from one generation to the next, as well as the alluring power of stories and myths and gossip and how they inform women’s lives. With Waterborne, she has added another tale to that already rich store of material.