NB Telegraph-Journal Review of Dollybird

Reviewed by: By Laurie Glenn Norris


Oct. 19, 2013

By Laurie Glenn Norris

Dollybird by Anne Lazurko, Coteau Books, 256 pages

In the summer of 1906, the province of Saskatchewan was less than a year old, largely unpopulated and hungry for settlers. Thousands of individuals and families travelled there from eastern Canada seeking a new life. In Anne Lazurko's debut novel, Dollybird, both Dillan Flaherty and Moira Burns arrive in Moose Jaw on the run from their past: he a grieving, bewildered young widower; she a self-described "almost doctor, "unmarried and pregnant. But while Dillan sees only hardship and damnation ahead, Moira is confident and unrepentant. Both are in for a surprise.

Dollybird explores human relationships: parents and children, men and women, siblings and female friends, and how these connections are further complicated in the face of an indifferent, unpredictable natural environment. After her family heirlooms are destroyed by a tornado, Moira tells herself, "only the strong and the ugly survive in this place."

Lazurko's straightforward prose transports the reader to early 20th-century Canada. A Halifax slum, seedy brothel and claustrophobic sod hut are brought to life by well-researched details into medical practices, domestic life and homesteading. Hers is an unidealized portrayal of life at that time, as known to the working poor, the disenfranchised and the sickly. Her characters are well-developed, flawed and frightened.

Dollybird, like all good novels, and life itself leaves much to ponder and question. It does reassure us, however, that placing ourselves in a new location does not necessarily mean that we have left old attitudes and beliefs behind. s


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