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THE HONEY
LOCUST

By Jeffrey Round
Cormorant Books
285 pages, $21
ISBN: 978-1-897151-38-9

 

    It’s probably long past time to pay attention to the writing of Jeffrey Round. Celebrated in some circles for wittily satiric novels (Death In Key West, being a favourite of mine) that capture their various milieus and characters with crackling veracity, Round has now turned out a novel that, besides being a real page-turner about the awful Bosnian tragedy, is an elegantly written novel of sharp insights into human nature and its consequent conflicts. The Honey Locust is a mature fiction: confidently structured, suspenseful, passionate, and filled with revelatory truths of human relationships. It cuts chiefly between Lion’s Head, Bruce Peninsula and the former Yugoslavia, with brief stops in Calgary and Cancun, while centering on two principal types of warfare: political and domestic. Its main character is globe-trotting photo-journalist Angela Thomas, a thirty-two year old Ontarian, who can never seem to find peace anywhere she travels or resides—until she loses some of the most significant underpinnings in the course of her turbulent experiences abroad and at home, and feels the ground shake under her with a startling secret suddenly revealed by her mother.

   In some ways, Round’s novel is reminiscent of Findley’s The Wars because (as in that slim Canadian classic) the deeper wars are often shown to be internal ones within man, the sort that exile us from our better natures. Of course, Round’s time frame, settings, tone, and temper are hardly those of The War’s Edwardian era. However, the wars that Angela witnesses and experiences are not only the pitiless savagery of Bosnia but the cold, sometimes ruthless battles on the domestic front, where her father, Conrad, is a grey lion of the land, strong and protective, where her mother, Abbie, seems to be peevish, hard, unforgiving, and distant, and where she and her two sisters have their own problems with men, marriage, and love.

   War, photography, and the honey locust trees planted on the Thomas family property are three metaphors Round uses to erect his scaffolding from which to offer “prophecy with a backward glance.” He cleaves to a precisely disciplined prose style where every sentence gleams. Whether describing the awful pitilessness of war, the unpredictability of love, or the riptides of fear, indecision, and emotional devastation, Round shows himself to be a master of barbed dialogue, the darkness of moral terror, and the vagaries of human feeling. His novel is sometimes like a living album of wandering ghosts; sometimes reality seems to be submerged under water; and at other times, moments have an ineluctable brightness. The fiction is charged with wisdom as it probes what lies under surfaces of reality and discovers that darkness is not just a camera’s fade to black but the ruins of Angkor Wat, the Lacandan rainforests, the shell-shocked regions of former Yugoslavia, and, most of all, the human heart—that crater where we often miss the chance to forgive and forget and where we waste time and effort in fighting and distancing ourselves from one another.      

 

 

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