Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Review: 'That Woman' by Wayne Clark

Canadian author Wayne Clark has been around - as a journalist, a reporter, and editor, a freelance writer and translator, a copywriter, and an astute observer of life in all its permutations. He travels (all over Canada, across the pond to Germany and Holland, and down in the third American level of Mexico), he sees, probably fantasizes a lot. Stir that pot and out comes a novelist who takes risks and makes them pan out for him. he & She was his first published complete novel - a taste of what he can create – and now with THAT WOMAN we the reading public are in for an adventurous ride.

To open this book of historical fiction Wayne once again suggests without an overture, choosing instead a brief prelude of the sensitivity of the story to come - At the end of the preface to this book Clark leaves us with the response of an attending nurse on our passing main character: `“Listen,” Gabriel Da Silva told his two children, Sarah and Jacob, “listen well because I am preparing you for life.” Over the years, Gabriel would sit his children down at a table in front of him and pass on what he called truths from his own life. He was a short man and always remained standing to add authority to his words. “I am preparing you for life.” He said that many times. In the end, he failed entirely. Throughout their lives Sarah and Jacob came to believe they were never truly ready for what happened next.’ He takes his story gradually, just like aging cells, and lets it settle in as an unexpectedly relaxed comfort zone. Chances, but safety nets. He does it well.

After this telling opening Wayne plunges us into France in the year 1748 – ‘It was the highlight of Sarah’s week when her father signaled for her and her older brother Jacob to prepare themselves to accompany him while he conducted business on the quays of Bordeaux. Preparation meant simply to spruce up, straighten up and, above all, look up. Show that you are someone, he would say. Since his wife died two years earlier, Gabriel Da Silva had placed his children on the pedestal his wife used to occupy. His taciturnity at home still made the days long, but Sarah had her brother to chatter with as they worked in the shop, its little office upstairs and the warehouse on the third floor. When Jacob teased her, which he would find any excuse to do, she laughed. Since their mother had died their father no longer barked out their names when he caught them playing word games while supposedly doing his accounts, or playing hide and seek in the store room when they were supposed to be finding space for a new consignment of goods. Mostly it was wine from their father’s best client, a producer in Pessac, a short distance southwest of the city.

And as is his apparent style he outlines his story in a well-scripted synopsis; ‘Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor. Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.’

Clark succeeds in this territory better than other authors in this genre because of the style with which he writes. He invites us into dark places but keep the focus on the frailty and durability of our humanity. There is much to be learned here and in the quality of fine prose and drama Wayne Clark offers another solid novel. Grady Harp, April 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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