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Where the River Narrows

by Aimeé Laberge

The best selling novelist in Quebec these days is Marie Laberge, whose three-part family saga Le Goût du bonheur has sold more than 450,000 copies. Now another Laberge – Aimée, a cousin of Marie’s who writes in English – has written an engaging multi-generational story that pulls as many heart strings as the other Laberge’s books.

Where the River Narrows is full of carefully observed details, from the rhymes Quebec children sing to such grand vistas as the view across the St. Lawrence River from Rimouski. The novel begins with Lucie Des Ruisseaux stuck in London with her two small children while her husband, Laurent, works on an ambitious experiment designed to repair holes in babies’ hearts. It is not going well, and as Lucie tells her story we see that damaged hearts are not confined to malformed infants.

Always in the background is the mystery of Antonio Tremblay, coureur du bois and father of Lucie’s great-grandmother and great-grandaunt. Lucie is on a mission to find out what happened to him. In the meantime, she must decide whether her marriage is going to survive a stay in London, the capital of the empire that conquered New France.

Laberge mixes accounts of the early days of the French colony with scenes from the lives of three generations of Quebec women in the 20th century. The story’s jumps through time are disconcerting at first, but the pattern of lives and loves repeating themselves soon becomes easy to follow.

Some of Laberge’s scenes are masterful. One of them, the wild autumn weekend when the brothers and sisters and their spouses go hunting in New Brunswick, brilliantly portrays the political tension between Quebec separatists and Quebec Canadians against the backdrop of the 1970 October Crisis. But this is a novel surprisingly free of political polemic: religion is more important to Laberge’s characters.

Aimée Laberge’s novel is unlikely to sell as well as Marie Laberge’s work, but it will undoubtedly please many readers who like a good story well told.