Raincoast Books, 2005. ISBN 1551927837.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 11/28/2005
While the story may sound simple on the surface, the unfolding of two protagonists through their alternate points-of-view is a masterful and welcome combination of mind, heart and spirit. We don't expect a modern day love story to be both sassy and spiritual. But this novel is just that. So many stories about men and women are about the chase. We don't get to find out what happens when a couple enters a relationship together. This first novel by Alison Pick is about a young couple finding themselves while apart. As Adam puts it while on a solo canoe trip, "A rite of passage where you turn to face yourself." Holy is a word he doesn't usually like, but here it seems to apply. "The holiness of renouncing love, of seeing the self."
Adam and Ellen's personal unfolding takes place in the summer with Adam canoeing and camping in the Arctic, and Ellen navigating city life in Toronto. There's a rawness about Ellen. She's the one who has been left. While working in an independent art gallery, she's buoyed up by a co-worker and some new friends. Her experiences with them change her. The things she has learned "are inside her for good. Tuning into the moment. Turning into yourself." Adam's trip to the Arctic involves the drama of outdoor adventure. Here you can tell Alison has received the gifts and challenges of the wilderness herself as she describes with expertise. Adam engages in solitary moments that are quintessential to the book and help to make it the quirky, sensual and poignant novel it is. There are also gems of description that would lose their brilliance if described out of context here.
Alison has done a masterful job of taking the reader from Ellen to Adam unravelling both their stories while they are apart. We learn what they are doing in present time but we are also privy to their personal memories of one another. All this is written as if effortlessly. There is no sense of losing our way with the dual stories or the layers of memory-time. But Alison allows us our intelligence. She gives us just enough detail to engage our own imagination. Just enough description helps us visualize a scene ourselves so that it becomes a combination of the book's reality, our imagining and what we remember of our own experience in love and separation. This is the skill of the poet. She lets the story become ours.
In 2002, Alison was the Bronwen Wallace Award winner for most promising unpublished writer under 35 in Canada. In 2003, Raincoast Books published her first book, a book of poetry called Question & Answer. The title section of the book won the National (Canadian) Magazine Award for Poetry. Alison was born in Kitchener, Ontario, and frequently returns to that part of Canada from her present home in Newfoundland.
As a former Torontonian, I recognized Toronto street names and neighborhoods in The Sweet Edge. The whole book is infused with humour despite Ellen's tears in reaction to Adam's wanderings.
The quote from Thoreau's Walden Pond, from which the book's title is taken, compares a fact to a cimeter with the sun glimmering on it so as to create a sweet edge of division. What is the gift in that "sweet edge dividing you?" we may ask of ourselves and of Adam and Ellen.
Adam and Ellen become changed by their separate experiences. Yet they're ensconced within the small world of themselves. What they learn there can help to change the world.
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