Thursday, July 02, 2009

February by Lisa Moore

Lisa Moore's first novel Alligator was a revelation when I first read it. It was a novel composed of sentences, each one as meticulously and surprisingly crafted as the next, and I'd never read anything else like it. As a whole, however, the novel didn't completely satisfy. This might be asking too much of a book that did so many other things, but still, the project wasn't completely realized. With February, however, breathtakingly, Moore has built on her promise and in this, her second novel, she has created a brilliant literary achievement.

Now, I realize that by only reading books I'll probably like, and only writing about books I do like, I may come across as a bit hyperbolic in my literary praise. Indeed, I do love an awful lot of books, but February is something different. A cut above even the very best of the rest, her is my favourite book I've read it ages. Casting its spell from the first sentence, crafted as marvelously as I'd expect, I was completely swept up in this novel that reads (as Alligator did) like nothing else I've ever read before.

February is the story of Helen, a Newfoundlander whose husband was killed in the Ocean Ranger Disaster in 1982. (Helen is fictional; the disaster is not). The story is focused in late 2008, beginning when Helen's son telephones her to inform her that a woman he'd spent a week with seven months ago is now pregnant with his child. He is calling to find out if he'll be made to do the right thing, whatever the right thing may be, and so he will by Helen's guidance, because she is a distinctly honorable woman. Which is different than being deliberately so. Much of Helen's life has been an accident, but her goodness is still palpable to the reader. Which is Moore's first great achievement-- that goodness can be interesting, worthy of a story. Moore's second achievement being her depiction of Helen and her husband's absolute, pure and total love. A portrait of a good marriage even, which is even more rare in fiction than real life. A marriage so good that there's really no getting over it, no moving on or forgetting, and Helen's loss is so heartbreakingly rendered, captured in the details and avoiding any points cliched or saccharine.

February is a novel about moving forward, about never letting go and doing the right thing. Its characters are vivid and wonderful, their thoughts positively "thought-like"-- twisting, interrupted, irrational-- as Moore's style continues on in the same surprising vein, her technical innovation perfectly realized. The story is as funny as it is sad, and that sadness has meaning beyond itself. It's a rare thing-- a perfect book. I would call it one of the best books published in Canada this year, but I'm taking my chances on it being one of the best books from anywhere.