My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, way back in the day when she was just Anderson without the -Dargatz, I knew Gail. Not well, it was more a friend-of-a-friend situation, but there you go.
Previously I read A Rhinestone Button (in 2003) and A Cure for Death by Lightning (in 1999, which I weirdly remember because I read it on a trip). Which predates me keeping track of my reading, so no links. I can’t say I have any strong memories of either book, but then, it’s been a while! This is why it’s good to write things down.
Anyhoo. Turtle Valley. Purchased at the VPL Book Sale, October 2010:
Turtle Valley is set just outside Salmon Arm during the August 1998 wildfire. Some of the hyper-local place names are fictional (Turtle Valley, Promise), but the general geography is authentic. The fire was to the west of Salmon Arm and this is where protagonist Kat’s parents live.
She has returned home (accompanied by her husband, Ezra, and son) to help her parents move the possessions they want to keep safe from the fire to her sister Val’s garage (in Canoe, east of SA). They do this at what feels like a rather leisurely pace, intermingled with reminiscences, reconnections, and revelations.
Kat + Val’s father, Gus, is dying. Val thinks their mother, Beth, has the beginnings of dementia. Beth + Gus’s neighbor, Jude, is Kat’s ex. Kat married Ezra on the rebound. Ezra has had a stroke and Kat feels more like his caregiver than his wife.
There’s a parallel between Ezra and Beth’s long-deceased father, who suffered from PTSD as well as a brain injury (cause: WWI). There’s another parallel between Kat/Jude’s relationship and the one between Beth’s also-deceased mother, Maud, and Gus’s deceased uncle, Valentine. There’s a third parallel between war and the wildfire (smoke fills the air, ash and sparks rain down, army trucks race past the house, helicopters and water bombers fly overhead). There’s a fourth parallel between the wildfire and Jude’s kiln (he makes raku).
And… there are ghosts.
To be clear, these are magical realism style ghosts. But there is plenty going on in this story. Did it need ghosts? I think no. I think the ghosts were superfluous. The story would have been just fine without ghosts. But it’s true I’m not a vwzg* person. I know other readers love the ghosts.
This story feels very personal. I try to avoid conflating author/narrator, but… Kat is a writer. She’s the same age as the author. They both worked as reporters for the Salmon Arm Observer. They both had husbands who had strokes. etcetera. Obviously a lot of this story is culled from real life. It made me wonder how the real-life counterparts felt about this story. How do you pull from real life so transparently and survive the backlash? That’s something I still struggle with, will maybe always struggle with, though I tell myself I need to get over my hang ups and just write.
*vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts