You know how sometimes you pick up a book and it’s just not the right timing? That was true for me and Alison Pick’s first novel, The Sweet Edge, which I first picked up, shortly after publication, in 2005.
Even though I’d been excited to get a copy of it (she’d won the Bronwen Wallace Award and my fondness for Bronwen Wallace’s short stories has definitely coloured my expectations of that award’s winners), I just didn’t click with it.
Page forward to an autumn weekend in 2010, when I devoured the entire novel in an on-again-off-again day’s reading.
It’s not as though the plot is riveting (Ellen works in a trendy art gallery and Adam embarks on solo canoe trip in the Arctic): this is the stuff of ordinary life. (Well, some people’s ordinary lives: not mine, but whatever.)
The Sweet Edge opens with this: “The little bell on the glass door tinkles and a woman enters the gallery.” But despite the open door: these are not happy times.
In fact, things aren’t quite right for Ellen and Adam from the moment, well from many moments before the story opens.
The story actually opens on unhappiness. In the galley, Ellen is ruminating:
“Ellen has been happy. How can she get back to that? Eight months ago is only eight months. If time lands here then it must have started somewhere. She must be able to trace it back. If someone can pass her the spool she will wind the whole year in again. She will put it in her pocket and take it home. She will unspool time to back before this happened, before it all went wrong.”
There have been some misunderstandings, and Ellen needs to spool back over quite some time to try to sort through what’s happened.
It turns out that “[b]oredom, curiosity, someone to move your futon, to reprogram your hard drive: apparently these things aren’t love” and now she must re-consider, re-allocate, re-member.
But she has plenty of time to do that because Adam is not there.
In fact, he could hardly wait to leave. “He wants to be out of here already. Toronto is a dry husk breaking open behind him. He is the new thing, emerging.”
And now he is on the road. “He could skip his heart across the flat water in front of him.”
And it’s working for him. “This is the thing about traveling, the thing he is after. You get in a bus and you come out unrecognizable. You set foot on altered land but it is you who have changed.”
So, you see…it’s not fancy. And when I picked it up that other time, that out-of-time, that wrong-time, the prose must have felt bare. Maybe the theme of finding-self-losing-self felt too-familiar. Maybe the characters felt too real.
But this time? The prose is stark yet perfectly formed. The style reflecting the spaces in which credible characters find and lose themselves.
And, more than anything? It makes me want to see what Alison Pick’s been writing in the past five years while I was so busy waiting, waiting for the exact, right time to read The Sweet Edge (which was, ultimately, inspired by her association with this year’s IFOA).
Have you re-tried a book that you missed connecting with on your first try? Have you read Alison Pick or Bronwen Wallace?
Companion Reads: Stacey May Fowles Fear of Fighting, Charlotte Gill’s Ladykiller