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Narrating the short book its 256 pages top out at a listening time of about seven hours is actor Bronson Pinchot, best known for playing loopy immigrant Balki Bartokomous on the 1980s sitcom Perfect Strangers. Here, Pinchot lends Wyatt a guileless, plaintive voice as he details life during World War II-era Canada, especially with his carpenter uncle, who obsessively papers the walls of his shed with news stories of German U-boat disasters, and his beautiful adopted cousin, Tilda, whose romance with a young German student divides their small town.
Given the novel’s epistolary structure, playing the melancholic Wyatt more or less one-note is a risk that pays off; Pinchot’s measured intonation reveals more about the character’s emotional inner life than would a more robust cadence. That said, the listener is hardly deprived of Pinchot’s talents, as Norman has populated his book with a wealth of quirky secondary characters that lets the actor utilize his knack for adopting accents (here, he has fun with Irish, German, and, of course, Canadian dialects). The result is a performance that lends an already excellent novel more beauty, more depth, and, if possible, more raw feeling. Jaime Buerger
Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents, within hours of each other, jump off two different bridges—the result of their separate involvements with the same compelling neighbor, a Halifax switchboard operator and aspiring actress. The suicides cause Wyatt to move to small-town Middle Economy to live with his uncle, aunt, and ravishing cousin Tilda.
Setting in motion the novel’s chain of life-altering passions, and the wartime perfidy at its core, is the arrival of German student Hans Mohring, carrying only a satchel. Actual historical incidents—including a German U-boat’s sinking of the Nova Scotia–Newfoundland ferry Caribou, on which Aunt Constance Hillyer might or might not be traveling—lend intense narrative power to Norman’s uncannily layered story.
Wyatt’s account of the astonishing events leading up to his fathering of a beloved daughter spills out 21 years later. It’s a confession that speaks profoundly of the mysteries of human character in wartime and is directed, with both despair and hope, to an audience of one.
An utterly stirring novel, this is Howard Norman at his celebrated best.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Elizabeth on 08-05-10
Quiet, Yet Powerful
This novel starts slowly, building to a quiet, yet powerful climax of lives changed forever from a U-Boat's sinking of a local ferry. The author, Howard Noman, creates characters that move with authority in their own lives, and not once did I glimpse any authorial heavy hand in the plotlines--the author is invisible, as it should be.
We'd just been on vacation in that area of Canada, and I could envision all the places in the novel. But Norman's writing is so strong and vivid that a trip to our neighbors to the North is not necessary. I get a sense of the bakery, the living room, the series of hotels, the Halifax harbor as well as the library in this small Canadian town--all the settings well-drawn so the characters move easily in their own space.
I also gained an insight into that time in our collective histories: of how intimately we were all affected by World War II. But in this book, the large national experiences of war and loss reverberate with a sometimes touching, sometimes sad, yet ultimately uplifting intensity. I didn't want that last chapter to end, wanting to stay with the people of this place to see how they fared.
I heartily recommend this!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
By Kristi Warriner on 08-08-10
Good work by Bronson Pinchot
Bronson Pinchot, the narrator, shows how having a good actor, as opposed to a good reader, can bring much to a novel. He did a fantastic job with this. Great character development, interesting historical backdrop, and a decent plot add up to a good listen. The denouement was a bit overlong, but by then I liked the book so much I didn't care that it was hanging around a bit after it could've wrapped things up.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful