Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Wind Seller
The Wind Seller / Rachael Preston
Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, c2006.
Set in the small town of Kenomee, Nova Scotia, in 1924, this is a story of a community shaken up by the sudden appearance of a large ship washed up at their wharf. It is a strange ship, with a small crew which includes a long-legged, long-haired beautiful woman who dresses like a man, named Esmeralda. Not only that, there is no cargo. The inhabitants gather at the shore to take a look at this unusual sight, and the ship's captain asks a local mechanic on board to take a look at their engine, which has stopped working -- their reason for ending up at this wharf. The suspicious circumstances lead the locals to believe that this must be a ship of pirates, or of rum-runners, and they are correct.
This event is the big moment that the story revolves around, but it is more deeply the story of the people of Kenomee. Two characters are our main focus: Hetty Douglas, a nurse who was in Halifax during the Great Explosion, and was dismissed from nursing afterward. She needs an escape from the stress and shock she suffered, and so is married off to a distant cousin, a cold and abrupt man who nevertheless runs a successful factory and wants a wife. She is beginning to question her existence as she wakes from the emotional numbness she's felt since the Explosion. The second character is Noble Matheson, local boy who has his own problems. He's lost his beloved brother in the War, and has also just realized that he is likely the real father of the pompous local doctor's son.
Noble is trying to write a book - he's sent away for the Elinor Glyn System of Writing, hoping it will show him how to create a story. The system tells him to write about his own life; he thinks that there will be nothing to set down, but that very day, the rum runners arrive at the shore. It is the ship that eventually links Noble and Hetty as well. Hetty, former nurse, is called aboard to tend to a young crew member who is feverish. She realizes the only option to his gangrene is to amputate his leg, which she does; this action causes a lot of friction between she and her husband as well as a run-in with the old-fashioned local doctor who believes women (and specifically nurses) should not meddle in matters that don't concern them. A mutual dislike of the doctor leads to a kind of friendship between Hetty and Noble.
I found this book interesting, with a great Atlantic Canadian setting, and lots of historical detail about events such as the Great Explosion or the existence of rum-runners. There was a wide-ranging cast of characters, with a variety of social issues and concerns brought up, adding depth to the story. However, I didn't really like the ending, feeling a little bit like there was no real resolution.
At the end of the book, Esmeralda is arrested and taken to Halifax. Hetty feels compelled to go see her charged in court, so hitches a ride with Noble, who is on shady business of his own. Hetty stays with her aunt in Halifax, where her husband eventually locates her. He arrives and suddenly Hetty has resolved all her angst and is ready to head home with him again. She suddenly likes Peter; why? There didn't seem to be any reason why Peter would have changed, his character as built up didn't seem very changeable. He was a cold, stifling kind of husband, and I can't see Hetty's free spirit bending to that easily.
As for Noble, he never does "claim" his son, but he does find out that nearly everyone else knows the truth anyhow. He decides that what he will write will be a story for his son, about himself and his brother, so the boy will know the facts some day. Which is nice but rather tame considering his drunken and regretful revels earlier as he tried to deal with the facts.
In any case, this was enjoyable for its historical setting and the lively action and characterizations. There were probably many nurses and doctors suffering from emotional trauma after the Great Explosion, and Hetty is a complex portrait of such an individual. The book is fast paced, suited to its subject, and is an entertaining read.
Rachael Preston is a Hamilton-based writer. Her debut novel, Tent of Blue, was published in the fall of 2002 by Goose Lane Editions. A native of Yorkshire, England, Rachael has a Master’s degree in English Literature from Queen’s University and also studied at Emily Carr College in Vancouver. Rachael has worked freelance as an editor and copywriter. Currently Rachael teaches creative writing courses both in class and online for Mohawk and Sheridan Colleges.