Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - The Small Things that End the World

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson

Saskatoon poet, novelist, and director of the MFA in writing program at the University of Saskatchewan, Jeanette Lynes, returns with a second novel, The Small Things That End the World (Coteau, $24.95), and in it there are a number of small things at work, all right, but also a couple of very large ones.

Part of Lynes's conceit in her opening is a bit of fuzz on a phonograph needle that allows 14-year-old Sadie Wilder to hear the telephone so she can accept a babysitting job she wouldn't otherwise have been offered. Her friend has the mumps, another small blip, and a couple needs an alternate. This is Sadie's big break into the Toronto elite's firmly Protestant bastion of wealth and anti-Semitism — a place Miss Wilder would never have been allowed.

Sadie is so smitten with the sudden money that will pour her way — money that has been going to and being bragged about by her friend — that she doesn't notice ominous signs: not the developing storm as Mr. Bannister drives her to his palatial home, not the way this rich and powerful man drives his sports car, his showing off for a young babysitter described with sexually active verbs like spank, pierce, jab, spurt, and thrust. Creative writers take note.

The small things we point to whenever something horrible happens and we think of the myriad ways in which a collision of events could have been avoided are one thing, and Lynes highlights the ones to come in each of her chapters, but it's big things that really bring young Sadie down: her easily excused naivete — she's a 14-year-old only child of a single, working mother, the huge storm — Hurricane Hazel — bearing down on 1954 Toronto, and hubris, something the ancient Greeks warned us all about.

Just as Sadie is patting herself on the back — "Employment suited me, I grew better-looking with each passing moment" — Hazel batters in the house and floods the neighbourhood. Sadie must rescue a baby, a small child, and a dog, and when not everything goes her way, she falls directly into a pit of self-recrimination so strong it infects her remaining life.

Her hubris is passed on, the ignorance part of it wilfully, to her daughter and she, too, must trot that innocence out into a world of sharks and demons, barely escaping with her life. So, having learned very little, she carries on the tradition of keeping her daughter in the dark so that she, too, can feel those arrows of outrageous fortune. This is an often harrowing story with some blessed redemption about people looking to blame small things for the big things that should have been brought out into the open. But humans aren't like that. Lynes knows.
This review is part of a larger article that appeared in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix. To read the full article click here
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