Grief, memory, trauma. Fairly standard NCL-issued tropes with which we are all familiar. But with her second novel, February, Lisa Moore looks to the root of these tropes: risk. How do we assess it? Can we avoid it? Or should we avoid it? For this is a novel of risk: Of Helen and Cal taking a chance on each other and starting a family. Of working out on the rigs off the coast of Newfoundland. Of having a child. Of starting again. As Helen learns on the night of February 14, 1982, when Cal dies along with 83 other men aboard the Ocean Ranger, a risk can change everything.
February starts up over 25 years after this tragedy, as Helen tries to gather her courage to take another risk: moving forward, while still trapped in that one fateful month long past. The novel has the feel of a scrapbook, with each short section (each a memory) given a name and a year, one that you could imagined penciled beneath the vivid portraits that follow. This is a book made of the scraps of a life, of those crystalline memories that remain unravaged by time. And in developing this photographic memory, Moore shows her talent for sharply rendering quotidian details through the lenses of her characters. It is this combination of precise physicality and emotional acuity is what takes February beyond its conventional themes, what makes it sharp, compassionate, and fully-realized.
Of course this is not entirely a novel about the past. Helen and Cal’s only son, John, unexpectedly finds himself a father-to-be after a week-long love affair in Iceland. He is in the position of his parents decades before — faced with a child and a huge risk, despite the fact that he has made a career of calculating risks for others. As for Helen, even as she dwells on the past, she also takes tentative steps forward. She crafts not only an album of memory, but creates custom wedding dresses, fusing her own loss with these symbols of hope and new beginning. Perhaps, Helen will be able to sew her tattered past into one such garment, but she must be willing to take a risk once again. And this time, it will not be taken by a relative ingenue in the first blush of love, but rather by a mature woman with the knowledge of loss and consequence. So with Helen’s tentative forays into romance, Moore’s novel of risk and tragedy turns into something more impressive: a touching portrait of courage in spite of the fragility of human affairs.
Thanks to Julie and the Anansi Review Crew for the opportunity to review this book before it his the shelves!