Mouse by Brian Reynolds
When the decision is to be indecisive.
I want to than Brian Reynolds for his hard work and commitment to this worthwhile endeavor.
Mouse starts with the narrator talking to his young daughter, nick-named Mouse. He is going to write about a past episode in her mother and father’s relationship. He will attempt to be truthful so when she is old enough she can read it and draw her own conclusions.
The story begins in 1977 in a classroom in the remote northern Ontario outpost of Orkney Post. David Taylor, the narrator, is a substitute teacher. The subsequent chapters jump back and forth in time to when he first met his wife, Suzanne, in Toronto and dramatic events unfolding in Orkney Post. The two time periods begin to merge as Suzanne takes a teaching job in Orkney Post to “make a difference” and David, now her husband, dutifully follows.
Suzanne can’t connect with the Native kids or their parents. She hates teaching them, hates the isolation and then gets pregnant. She wants to escape back to civilization for the sake of her sanity and the health of the baby. The nuns who run the school ask David if he’ll fill in to finish out her contract. David accepts since the couple has no money and no place to live down south except with his in-laws.
But David has an ulterior motive. He’s ambivalent about becoming a father. In fact, he suffers from chronic indecisiveness. The only reason he dodged the draft in the United States and came to Toronto was the insistence and assistance of a friend. An unsuccessful artist, his only real job since he arrived in Canada has been is a part-time position at Tim Horton’s.
David doesn’t know how to be a teacher and that helps him, since the Native children don’t know how to be students. He connects with them through art projects. Doors begin to open.
There’s a two week “hunting break” in the spring when the school is closed and all the teachers fly south for some R&R. David decides not to get on the plane, not to visit his pregnant wife. Instead he stays alone in Orkney Post. His wife can’t figure out why. Neither can David.
But he has no time to ponder or to paint. The ice on the river his breaking up, there’s a huge ice jam and Native village, located on an island is flooded. David is pressed into action, nothing really heroic but all the same he’s making a contribution, doing something worthwhile – finally.
It’s a frenetic two weeks. David becomes close to Rosemary, a nurse and a local band member. Too close. The affair is doomed but being indecisive also means you can’t say no.
The school year is ending and with it the teaching position. The baby is getting closer. The pressure mounts as David has to decide between Rosemary or Suzanne, between two very different ways of life, between two divergent futures.
Brian Reynolds has crafted a very human story filled with courage and weakness. The book is worth reading if only for its insights into the character of aboriginal Canadians and their plight shown through different characters and circumstances and the varied responses.
Reynolds plot is seamless and authentic. The use of flashbacks and narrator insights actually works. His characterization is remarkable in its subtlety as is the main character’s journey, both internal and external.
In a way the character of the protagonist, David, is symbolic of most Canadians when it comes to the issues surrounding our First Nations people – we mean well, but our efforts are weak and ineffectual and often do more harm than good. Thirty-four years later and not a lot has changed.
Mouse is a small story – unremarkable people living pretty regular lives, dealing with mostly everyday situations – no international locales, no larger than life heroes or villains, the world is never at risk. All the same it was a page-turner for me.
I received this book free from Smashwords as part of my commitment to review the work of new, self-published authors.
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