Starlight / Richard Wagamese
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, c2018.
This was a fraught read: it's the last, and unfinished, novel by Richard Wagamese. I didn't want to finish it, knowing that. But, of course, I did. I was glad to have the chance to read this last work, but unfortunately it wasn't as strong as I'd hoped.
It's a story featuring Franklin Starlight, the protagonist of Medicine Walk, which I think is probably my favourite Wagamese novel.
Franklin is now middle-aged, still living on the isolated BC farm he was raised on, and settled into a bachelor life with his friend and employee Roth.
The other strand of this story involves Emmy and her young daughter Winnie. Emmy is in a seriously abusive relationship, and one day decides to flee. She takes her daughter and steals her partner's truck, heading west as far as she can get. But she can't shake everything; her awful ex and his partner in crime spend the next year tracking her down through city streets and squalor.
She ends up in a tiny town near Franklin's farm, squatting in an abandoned house; but through a series of incidents, ends up being taken in by him as a housekeeper of sorts. It's this relationship that is the heart of the book -- they begin to change each other as Franklin becomes a little more sociable, and Emmy begins to trust the world again as he teaches her lessons from the land.
It's a story that has more in common with Wagamese's earlier books such as Dream Wheels that with Franklin's early story in Medicine Walk, at least I think so. The tone is even, with the relationship between Franklin and Emmy fairly low-key romantic. Franklin's approach to the land is highly individual and mystical, and sometimes also a bit too much for me -- besides farming, he is also a wildlife photographer, and the descriptions of how he gets his intimate photos were a bit purpley for my tastes. The spark of light humour comes from Roth, but even that is a little old-fashioned in some ways.
In any case, just as the drama in the story is coming to a head, there is no more book. It ends there. But one thing I was glad for was that the publisher did not try to find someone else to write it based on Wagamese's notes. Instead, they describe what he was thinking and how he intended to end it, alongside some earlier writing that indicates the direction of this book. And they include some other relevant writing that he was doing before he passed away.
It was a fitting way to close the book. And to convince anyone who hasn't read all of his works so far to go back and pick up those missing titles. It's definitely and unmistakably a Wagamese read.