Friday, August 19, 2011
The Carradine Diary by Virginia Smith
Publisher: Diva Books
Sometimes people with important gifts disappear before they can be discovered. This is frustrating to those who find their work because just when they're developing a taste for it, they learn that there won't be any more. Such is the case with Virginia Smith. A long introduction by her editor explains that Smith was killed in an auto accident before The Carradine Diary could be published. She had completed one other novel, The Ropemaker's Daughter, and the books offered great promise for what was to come. Now, that won't happen, but The Carradine Diary remains as a fitting legacy for the author.
Abby Martin is a graphic designer who has received a commission to illustrate a book being written by famed biographer Mo Laker. To complete the drawings, Abby has to leave her partner Gayle behind in England while she flies to Canada, but this hasn't been as difficult as it should have been. Abby and Gayle have a long term relationship, but Abby is beginning to question if it's all that it should be. She's hoping that the time spent in Canada will give her time to work all of this out in her mind. Her assignment is to travel around Prince William Island drawing places that were important in the life of Lucy Pritchard. Pritchard was a 19th century writer who is famous for a series of children's books that have spawned a number of cottage industries that support the economic life on the island. Mo provides a list of places that she wants sketched for the book, then Abby is left on her own and slowly unwraps a mystery about Lucy and her life.
In a small community called Carradine, where Lucy used to teach, Abby meets attractive Elise Robichaud, her mother Ruth, and her grandmother Marie. Abby feels herself drawn to Elise, but it quickly becomes clear that the Robichauds, who were tied to Lucy's story, have something to hide that neither they nor Mo want Abby to find out. Before leaving on a trip, Mo tells Abby not to return to Carradine, but it's a promise she can't keep because of her desire to see Elise again. A broken starter on her car leaves Abby stranded in Carradine with time – time to explore her relationship with Elise, time to worry about her relationship with Gayle and time to discover Lucy's Carradine Diary, which will reveal a shocking surprise about Lucy Pritchard's life that becomes a completely unexpected twist to the story. Abby is confronted by choices about her life, Elise, Gayle and Lucy, all of which could have devastating effects.
Virginia Smith was a word master. She alternates between first person narrative and dialogue to create an atmosphere of intimacy with Abby. The reader knows what she's thinking and shares the confusion of her emotions as the story unfolds. By moving back and forth between the story of Abby and Elise and Lucy's story, Smith creates a growing sense of suspense about both stories. She deftly plants hints as to what Lucy's secret might have been and then catches the reader at the end with an unexpected revelation. This book deserves to have attention paid to it because it is a powerful piece of literature. The only drawback is that, as you're realizing what a fine book you've read, you'll also remember that there won't be any more. That truly is a shame.