When I first started reading The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey I was afraid that all my old issues with CanLit were coming home to roost in this book.
But I kept at it and before I knew it, I had spent the entire day with this book and was quite attached to it.
The Fortunate Brother is about Kyle Now. His father, Sylvanus has been drinking heavily since the death of Kyle’s brother, Chris. His mother, Addie has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and wants Kyle and his father to quit drinking and make something better out of their lives. When the local bully ends up dead, with traces of his blood on the Now’s dock, Kyle questions everything he knows and really starts to flounder.
This book is very much of a certain time and place. It’s 1980, in Newfoundland, with all the baggage that that comes with. The Nows have come back to this next part of their story, having featured in Morrissey’s previous novel, Sylvanus Now. That one takes place in the 1950s – for readers of that book (I haven’t read it) this is a chance to see what happened.
This book is tense. Right from the beginning, Kyle is at a loose end, living in the shadow of his dead brother, blaming his sister for her part in it. He’s barely 20 and feels like an old man, trying to figure out what his next step is.
The murder really throws everything off. Morrissey takes you into the community, makes you a part of the drama and the unease. It’s a layered story that’s drawn out with purpose. There is a lot going on – a murder mystery, cancer, a family trying to put itself back together – but Morrissey handles all these facets with care. When I started reading it, I didn’t understand how it could all fit together, so disparate did the elements feel. But Morrissey manages it.
In the end, I was grateful to get to read such a taut, complex, resonant and philosophical tale about family and one’s place in the world.
To really get a sense of the strength of the writing, take a look at this post about the book from Naomi @ Consumed By Ink.
Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book.