Yearning for second chances
Published Saturday June 5th, 2010
Thom Vernon’s strange mix of dissonant characters make a choir whose members long for love, freedom, renewal.
Without ado, The Drifts parachutes the reader into “a podunk town in the armpit of Arkansas.”
It’s a jarring introduction, that transportative first chapter, for its lack of reference points in the form of setting or plot, for its immediate submersion into the local dialect and for the raw, relatively graphic sex scene on page two. Two!
What’s going on here?, the reader wonders. Who’s Charlie? And why had he “better’d get his raggedly tuckus back in the house and plant hisself down on that sofa?”
What Toronto author Thom Vernon doesn’t reveal upfront he unfurls in an entrancing display in subsequent pages.
Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the four protagonists, and Vernon draws competently on his author’s tool box, using tone, punctuation and idiom to set the voice of each apart from the others.
We meet Julie, a housewife whose two grown daughters just left home to seek fame in Hollywood only to find herself, at 46, pregnant with an unplanned, unwanted child; her husband, Charlie, a charming scallywag who, despite his cheating ways, wants to do right as a father and husband but has no idea how; Dol, a woman trapped in a man’s body, whose violent attempt at escape is heartbreaking as it is destructive; and Wilson, the towering tank of a woman who loves Dol, got messed up with her best friend, Charlie, but wants something more.
It is a strange mix of dissonant tones. Together, though, they make a choir, one whose sad songs and pathos are cut with levying humour and colour.
At its core, The Drifts is about longing, longing for love, for release, for freedom, for a second chance to make right what one erred at the first time around.
The setting may be rural, the dialogue twangy with notes of small-town South, but the themes are contemporary. It’s a study of the politics of gender, sex and power the author handles deftly, and with grace and compassion.
Not just a character novel, a taut suspense propels The Drifts. Weather is a harbinger here, the raging snowstorm, the “sullen ocean of Arkansas night … the fomenting sky exploding down upon us” an ominous portent of what is in store for the story’s central quartet while
“History was like the cold air, it was like the weather,” Wilson reflects. “The weather changes you. Whether it’s your history, your memories or your sex – they all shape how we move through our days. We bundle up against ’em or get into the fold of their cool shade.”
Kate Wallace covers the arts for the Telegraph-Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.