James Onusko loves When Fenelon falls

By James Onusko
November 25 2010

'Brilliant ... The Canadian literary scene has a new bright light and we trust that she is here to stay for a long while ...

The playfulness with language; punning, mixed metaphors, constant debating among several characters – particularly Jordan and her brother, the narrator – and that most of the interplay is between older children defines Palmer’s writing style in the book. The language is stacatto-like, with alternating bursts of energy between the novel’s characters from start through finish. Marchport’s (the family compound is likened to the Kennedy’s Hyannisport) parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are often at a loss for words while Jordan’s language, filtered through her diary, is often clever and acerbic. Language is power for Jordan and is the one thing that allows her to defend herself. Her physical and emotional limitations diminish when she can use her tongue like a rapier against her aggressors – almost every single March outside of her brother and grandmother. Music also provides a protective membrane for Jordan and Palmer has achieved what many writers cannot – a steady, background current of sound that acts in much the same way as a Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino soundtrack does, if the reader allows it, to contextualize the narrative and the character’s actions. While their circumstances are quite different, I found myself comparing Jordan to Thebes from Miriam Toews’s, The Flying Troutmans. They now rank as two of my favourite young, female characters in contemporary Canadian literature ...

Palmer has crafted an extremely moving first novel. Older children, of at least upper middle school age, ‘almost’ adults and the rest of us who once were children could and should read this book. It is neither a simple nor a straightforward read, both emotionally and intellectually; but we have enough of that type of writing in our everyday lives. While the book could be devoured as the compelling plotline induces a high reading speed, I would argue that both time and care should be taken in enjoying this book. It asks a great deal from its readers on many levels; responding to these challenges will be rewarding for all readers. I highly recommend When Fenelon Falls and hope to see more from Dorothy Ellen Palmer in the near future.'

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