Lucky, lucky me--I got to read an advanced copy of Cordelia Strube's novel On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light (ECW Press, 2016). Friends, pick up a copy of this book. It is dark, funny, crushingly sad, and breathtakingly hopeful.
The novel is written in two parts. The first tells the story of Harriet, an 11-year-old painter and mixed media artist who is utterly neglected by the adults in her world. Her mother and stepfather Gennedy are focused on Harriet's little brother Irwin, whose serious health problems leave little parental attention left over for Harriet. This first half is reminiscent of fiction by Heather O'Neill or Miriam Toews, but Strube populates Harriet's world with uniquely funny and complex characters. The second part of the novel tells Irwin's story.
The first pages of the novel lack the subtlety that Strube later develops. Harriet is so bleakly neglected that I had to resist the urge to flip forward to find out whether I was in for 400 pages of adults behaving badly and an 11-year-old girl coping as well as she can. The eventual crisis between Harriet and Gennedy does not have the impact it could because Gennedy is pretty static through the first half of the novel. In fact, most of the novel's adults don't undergo the character development that I hoped for. But I stuck with this book, and I'm glad I did. Harriet and Irwin are such beautifully nuanced, memorable, sad, yet surprisingly hopeful characters that the final pages of the novel left me sobbing. And if you have any heart at all, this novel will leave you in tears, too. Go read it already.