I recently read Christine Higdon’s novel The Very Marrow of our Bones. The author is actually in a bookclub with my mum, thought I’d get that out of the way for journalistic integrity’s sake. And though this is what initially drew me to the novel – the neat factor – it is the writing and storytelling which kept me.
The circumspect style and even, nonjudmental tone are present throughout and offer and sort of consistency-counterbalance to the turbulence in Higdon’s character’s lives. The main characters are Lulu Parsons and Doris Tenpenny who are united by their hometown and a local creep. The reader is given alternating viewpoints, one chapter is a third-person narrative dealing with Lulu and the other is first-person and features Doris. Hidgon makes these two characters the focal point of the novel and all its action is seen through its effects on Lulu and Doris.
Set in Fraser Arm, BC the novel is an epic spanning from childhood to late in to the adulthood of its characters. This structure allows Higdon to look at the interconnectedness of chilhood events and adulthood’s path. Specifically, she looks at traumatic events like sexual abuse, drugs and other aspects of society like religion and poverty.
Higdon comments on how the trauma of early life dictates our reactions throughout the rest of it. Almost as if to say you can’t run from your past, so don’t try. Both Lulu and Doris come from broken homes but in very different senses. But the pain they feel is reconciled, shown to be damaging not only from its outset but also in how those around them, like their parents, failed to help.
But she also writes very extensively on the benefits on community. On one that shares your viewpoint, if only slightly, and does not make you feel badly about your decisions or who you are. In the end of the novel, Doris and Lulu are willed a home by the man who abused them both when they were young. Many people, like their siblings, and animals live on the farm and it becomes a sort of hub for their community. Where they can be happy and comfortable and live far from society while still being in it.
Overall, it’s a very comforting novel. It reminded me of a time when I was free of doubt and worry. Sort of like when the food critic tries the ratatouille in Ratatouille. It reminds me of the times in my life when my family would laugh together – my mother and her sisters all together at the cottage in our own little hub.
If you fear it’s length, do not worry. I read this book in a week and it felt too short.