Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Township of Time

A Chronicle

A collection of 20 stories set in Nova Scotia and spread over two centuries, the first taking place in 1786, the last in 1950. Some are complete in themselves, while the outcome or full import of others is not revealed until later. Together they form a sort of tapestry of interrelated lives, and lead to observations by several characters about the evanescence of time.

Keeping track of the many characters (some of whom are only bit players) is complicated by the use of nicknames, names that are similar, and even identical names. Many characters reappear in later stories, but the necessary connections are not always spelled out.

An Example

In "The Fiddlers of Point M'sieu 1873" young Col Forester goes fishing for mackerel. Four stories later he returns home having spent most of the intervening years at sea, and discovers his brother Ray has run off, his sister-in-law Edith dead, and their unnamed infant son in the care of Edith's sister, Clara. Three stories later we meet a boy named John Forester, who is being cared for by "Mam" (who turns out to be aunt Clara) and "the Captain," whom we are left to infer is Col Forester.

Similar threads extend through other stories for the reader to piece together, making them not so much linked as interwoven.

Trees

The image on the cover picks up on an interesting device that the author has used to add cohesiveness to the book. In "Juniper 1813" the first Colin Forester (Col's great-grandfather) plants an apple tree each time his wife gives birth, and these trees are known by the names of the children they were planted for. Several generations later in "The Bad Day 1921" John Forester refers to some apples as being "off the old Jen." And later, in "The Wind in the Juniper 1945" when he lies dying, it is the memory of a juniper tree (also planted by Colin) that triggers thoughts of home.

Bruce and Buckler

Charles Bruce and Ernest Buckler wrote nostalgic, almost romantic, portrayals of rural Nova Scotia, and were particularly skilled at capturing events from a child's point of view.

Bruce is better known as a poet, having received the G-G for The Mulgrave Road, but to my knowledge The Township of Time and his lone novel The Channel Shore (set in the same location as Township and sharing a few characters) are no longer in print.

That’s a shame. Bruce's descriptions are crisp and evocative, his dialogue excellent, and some of the stories in this book (like "The Bad Day") are very fine. His work deserves as much attention as that of Buckler or Frank Parker Day.