"Edson’s vivid portrayal of the urban area, as well as the working class and underclass, creates a vision of Saint John that highlights the discrepancy between the pre-modern idyllic notion of life in Atlantic Canada and the more complicated reality of the region."

-The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Place of Pretty Flowers (reviewed in Prairie Fire Magazine)

A Place of Pretty Flowers by Jerrod Edson Ottawa, ON: Oberon Press, 2007,
ISBN 978-0-7780-1313-6, 156 pp., $18.95 paper.

A Place of Pretty Flowers is a short but intriguing tale that takes place over a six-day period in August, 2005. The story begins on Thursday, August 11th, as family and friends gather at the Fernhill Cemetery in Saint John, New Brunswick, for the burial of 29-year-old Kevin Finch, who has been killed in a car accident. In one short chapter the reader meets the grieving parents, Joan and Jerry Finch; Jeremy Wiggins, 22, of Wiggins Funeral Home who is driving the hearse; Reverend Richard Grey, a white-haired minister who presided over the funeral and is now set to conduct the burial service; and two men in an unmarked police car, Detective Harry Ross, 62, and his young sidekick, Constable John Ladd.

The novel then immediately flashes back over a number of incidents and events from the preceding five days, showing what led up to Kevin Finch's death and what effect the death has had on a number of people. The story jumps back and forth, slowly revealing details about each of those characters as well as several others--Dr. Edward Ramsey, Chief Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy; Simon and Carol Wiggens, two other family members from the funeral home; Gabe and Pete, an unreliable, shifty pair of men employed to dig graves at the Fernhill Cemetery; Irene Thorne, the night cleaner at the morgue, and her husband Carl, and so on. Gradually we learn details of the past and present lives of all these characters, so that we understand, to some extent, why they are like they are now.

This many characters and their backgrounds may sound rather confusing, but the author handles the multiple viewpoints skillfully, and the timeline changes are indicated clearly in each chapter. We see an incident through one set of eyes, and believe we know what happened there, but then sometime later we re-see it from a different viewpoint, and learn that we have been cleverly misled by the author and have misinterpreted the incident. At first the story hinges mainly on Kevin and his family, but gradually aspects of crime and suspense add to the plot and keep the reader speeding through the story to see what other surprises the author might present.

Although the premise of the story, a young man's funeral and what led up to it, may seem dark, the story still has considerable humour. Some is slapstick, as in the discomfort of Detective Ross due to a persistent hemorrhoid problem that he tries unsuccessfully to hide from his partner. Some could be classed as black humour, for instance an incident at the funeral when Kevin's best friend tells a sexual joke that had once been Kevin's favourite, or an earlier, even more tasteless incident at the funeral home as the body is prepared for burial. Much of the humour is based on the foibles of various characters, such as the aging Barb, still searching for a man, who insists on taking her small dog everywhere, including the wake and the funeral.

A Place of Pretty Flowers is an easy read with interesting characters and an intriguing plot. The writing is tight, the chapters short, with sparse but concise descriptions of each character.
This is Edson's third novel, set, like his first two, in his birthplace of Saint John. He now lives in Toronto.

Donna Gamache is the author of Spruce Woods Adventure (Compascore Manitoba) as well as many short stories for both children and adults.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I starting reading and could not put it down. I finished the book in one sitting. The story had me enthralled from start to finish with some great twists and surprises. I highly recommend this book to anyone especially those who have lived in the Saint John area. Great work Jerrod!