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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Our Daily Bread

By Lauren B. Davis 
Published by Wordcraft of Oregon (October 2011) 

Bestselling novelist Lauren B. Davis balances horror, humor, and humanity throughout the pages of her latest book, Our Daily Bread, which was announced just last Saturday as one of The Globe and Mails best books of 2011. A gifted writer, Davis describes violence and despair without bludgeoning her readers, thereby creating an unforgettable read, frightening at times, but as enlightening and redemptive as it is disturbing. So good, in fact, that this reviewer read the book twice, to savor again gems of prose like these:

“It was one of those brilliant first days of true spring when the world heaved itself out of the long silver somnolence of winter.” (p. 56)

“His clothes were pushed to one side. And on her side: empty hangers, skeletons where the flesh of cloth had been.” (p. 122)

“Tom’s thoughts were dust devils, whirlwinds sucking up dirt from below and shooting it up in a fierce scatter of possibilities.” (p. 157)

Many books tell us of unfathomable abuse of the powerless, particularly children, against backdrops of extremity: poverty, ignorance, hypocrisy, ostracism. What sets Our Daily Bread apart? Though inspired by the real-life Goler clan of Nova Scotia, this novel spares readers the gratuitous salaciousness found in certain memoirs and documentaries. Indeed, there’s far more narrative about the daily lives of “the townies,” the Gideonites, than about the demented Erskine clan of North Mountain.

Spellbinding chapters that describe the brutal lives on “the mountain” begin and end this novel, sandwiching narratives about townspeople like Tom and Patty Evans and their two children, Ivy and Bobby, and a matronly widow named Dorothy Carlisle. The moral center of the story, Dorothy finds herself mentoring and protecting 10-year-old Ivy, despite her unwillingness to become involved with “children and their war games.” Ivy’s steadfast father, Tom, struggles stoically to take care of his family and to understand Patty’s restlessness. Why does she continue to reject his marriage proposals? 

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Bobby hooks up with an unlikely counselor in crime—Albert Erskine, a 22-year-old burglar and dealer of the best weed around—yet conceals the friendship from his parents and swears Ivy to secrecy as well.

Several of Gideon’s residents are hooked on what the Erskine clan is selling: moonshine, marijuana, and meth. Not surprisingly, the children on the mountain suffer most. Albert is no longer a child, yet his uncles remind him with their shotguns, fists, and boots that Erskines don’t talk and they don’t leave. Townies refer to Erskines as “those people,” lost for generations, so there’s nothing can be done about it—except to isolate “Satan’s shit” on North Mountain away from the pious residents below.

Events escalate and the story zooms in on Albert as he tries to protect Bobby and the children, who are all, boys and girls alike, in danger of being raped and murdered by fiends, the Erskine uncles maddened by meth. The book becomes a riveting page turner as it rushes toward its fiery and surprising climax. 

Reviewed by Clare MacQueen (Associate Editor, Serving House Journal) 

(Our Daily Bread, 258 pages, ISBN: 978-1877655722) 

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