Another of my favorites here, this story by Beverly Jensen is an excellent example of insight into a family script via dialogue in particular, and brought out by a dramatic change in the lives of the characters via the death of the patriarch. It is an obvious time for such revelation of secrets and hidden thoughts; a wake, especially one where the body is in transit to reach the event, is always a time for mumblings and gossip and emotional confrontation. Jensen does an exquisite job of gradually exposing the family members in their strengths and weaknesses as they face this change, this loss of their father, and face their childhood and hidden resentments.
Jensen follows a linear narrative–actually a parallel linear narrative as she switches back and forth between the brother and sister Avis and Dalton who are accompanying their father’s casket home to Canada from Connecticut, and the two sisters Emma and Idella who await their return up North. I have posted on the nature of the two stories and the similarity to hypertext on the Creative Writing weblog, feeling it is a good point to make about weaving story.
There are plenty of complications that arise on the journey, the first obviously being the discovery that their father’s casket has remained behind in CT at the train station. There is an ice storm that creates problems in both places of story, and in fact, is cleverly used by Jensen as an opening into further discovery of her characters, i.e., Idella’s squirrel coat that protects her from the icy cold yet raises questions of character by her family. There is a tie among the family–a truly dysfunctional family–in the drinking that has caused problems for many of their generations and yet it is the one thing that serves to bind them together in times of stress.
Wonderfully written, entertaining and soulful, reminiscent of the days of Faulkner and Hemingway and a much less innocent era (they simply hid things instead of flaunting them as we tend to do now), this is surely one of the best of the best of 2007.