Grove Press/Black Cat
(read in August)
The combination of loss, grief and the necessity of moving on in life (and love) is the main focus of this novel, which focuses on Helen after the death of her husband Cal in 1982. Cal worked on the Ocean Ranger, an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland, and was there when it went down due to bad weather and human error. All hands were lost; in horrible weather that left no opportunity for rescue by ship and water that can easily produce hypothermia in minutes, no one was saved (you can read about the Ocean Ranger here).
Much of the story is told through flashbacks, which bounce backward and forward in time, not very linearly. Helen has put off her grief for some time, and the book examines how she coped throughout the years, creating one of three separate plotlines that run and interweave constantly throughout the novel. Much of the time she spends trying to picture exactly what happened on the Ocean Ranger, and in the midst of trying to figure out what caused the rig to sink, she thinks of Cal doing his job or playing cards with his workmates on the rig, or Cal dying alone, in the icy water of the North Atlantic. At the time of her husband’s death, she had three children and another one on the way – her struggle to raise them alone and her children in general take up a second narrative strand, especially in the present: Helen's son John has just found out he’s going to be a father after a trip to Iceland. The call wakes her out of a deep sleep, both in terms of reality and metaphorically. The third storyline begins as Helen’s sister convinces her that her house needs renovating (“you want this place to be condemned or what?”) and Helen meets the carpenter Barry.
Grief consumes Helen, and Moore’s writing allows the reader to feel what Helen feels. Everyone can relate to the loss of a loved one, especially a partner/wife/husband, even more so when that loss comes unexpectedly before you think it should. While the author explores the nuances of grieving, loss and love, and expresses them well through her talented writing, there’s just something more dynamic and complex that’s missing here. While it may work on an emotional level, I noticed a surprising lack of real development of characters who are most central to Helen’s life – her daughters. John’s child’s mother, Jane, gets more air time than Helen’s own daughters, as does John himself, which just didn’t feel right. Even considering that their relationship was difficult and strained at times, I would have expected more from the mother-daughter aspects of this story. This books also at times has a kind of (dare I say what I really think??) "women's-fictiony" feel to it that I didn’t particularly care for.
What might have worked better for me would be a book about the men on the Ocean Ranger -- their reasons for being there, their camaraderie or conflicts, their last moments and the people they left behind. Someone should write that story.
But as always, so many people loved this book and gave it high ratings, so perhaps it will do well among the general-reading public. I'm just a demanding reader, and this one just didn't do it for me.