Perhaps it’s only to give readers an idea of how special it all was to Charlie.
“I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the writing of a man’s life at least gives you an idea of just how special it all was to him the first time around.”
That’s from Dennis Bock’s previous novel, The Communist’s Daughter, but elements of that novel appear to have remarkable resonance with this year’s Giller-longlisted Going Home Again.
“Perhaps it’s still early enough in this story to admit to you without fear of stating the obvious that the people in my life – those who surround me now, who crowd my past – are and always have been my fuel, my inspiration, my tabula rasa. I cut my teeth upon their sores and injuries, illnesses and deaths.”
It’s fortunate that there is some thematic overlap between the novels, for discussing Going Home Again in detail risks revealing some of the “sores and injuries, illnesses and deaths” which unfold in this story.
The novel begins quietly, with Charlie preparing for a family birthday, but with allusions to troubled times; more than half of its pages are turned with musing upon what has come before, and ruminations lead to explorations and revelations, and Dennis Bock exposes the way in which everyday tensions conflate and ignite.
Aspects of the plot might be unexpected, although the preface does prepare readers in some ways, but it is not surprising that a central preoccupation of the novel is the idea of home.
To begin with, Charlie returns to Toronto after separating from his wife, leaving her and their daughter behind him in Madrid. But Toronto is not necessarily ‘home’ for Charlie.
“It stood for the place I had yearned to run away from, the place I’d lost, and it had the charming and minor-key bravado of a city that still seemed too much in search of itself and at the same time too inclined to declare itself as one to be reckoned with. For me, it was a hometown by default and cruel luck, since Nate and I came here to live with our uncle after our parents were killed in a car crash.”
The relationship between the brothers forms a significant component of the novel (perhaps it is ‘home’) but a woman Charlie loved when he was a student in Montreal is of vital significance too.
“At that moment I was a man gazing into the deepest pool of them all, that of the irretrievable past, and trying to figure out his part in it. I could see only Holly’s back and arms and hands, which were moving as gracefully as if she were illustrating a story for the benefit of the young man she was standing with.”
Perhaps cities are simply places to come from, not necessarily homes. “‘I guess Montreal’s better than most places you can come from,’ I said.” Perhaps ‘home’ is more about relationships than geography.
“When your heart knows only the perfect impulse to share everything with someone without shame or resignation or restraint. She was talking about the difference between who we used to be and who we were now and how the space that remains when love ends becomes an empty grey thing you never thought you’d become.”
Perhaps Charlie’s ‘home’ is that “empty grey thing”. Perhaps ‘home’ is more about memory than anything else.
“I could not let happen what had happened to the memories of my parents, whom I remembered now as people I’d once known and loved deeply; but always flittering about was the odd sensation that I’d made them up out of thin air, that their lives had been as fleeting as a dream.”
If knowing and loving are fleeting, what can be certain in life? If these elements, so essential to creating a home, a true sense of belonging, are shaken, where can a foundation be built?
“But here I was, home again and back in her life, and neither of us had the heart to explain that our troubles weren’t so easily solved.”
Going Home Again draws a new set of struggles for Charlie, and raises the question in readers’ minds that perhaps home is where we lose.
Have you read Dennis Bock’s fiction before?
Or, are you planning to?
Going Home Again is my latest IFOA Wednesday read: great fun.