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Bookends – Exploring one family’s life after the Ocean Ranger disaster January 28, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends – Exploring one family’s life after the Ocean Ranger disaster

By Dan Davidson

July 2, 2015

– 730 words –



by Lisa Moore

House of Anansi Press

320 pages


Kobo e-book edition


The Ocean Ranger drilling platform sank off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982, caught by a Valentine’s Day storm and doomed by the inadequate training of her crew of 84. In Lisa Moore’s fictionalized retelling of the events, Cal O’Mara is one of the crew who died that day, leaving behind Helen and several children.

This is not a story told to us in chronological sequence. Indeed, it begins with a domestic scene in 2008, as Helen watches a man sharpening her grandson’s skates. We are told “She is the mother of one son and three girls and there are two grandchildren.”

We will spend most of our narrative time with either Helen or Johnny, the one son. When the girls’ stories are told it will be mostly through Helen’s eyes.

Moore has chosen to use entries from 2008 and 2009 as bookends to a story that jumps around quite a bit in time and location. Helen pretty much stays put in the 25 years following Cal’s death. She has four children to raise, one of whom was just on the way at the time, and life’s not easy.

Bouncing around through moments in her life we see how she and Cal met, experience their courting and wedding, and see how they lived up to the time he took the job on the oil platform.

We can’t experience the actual disaster, but Helen has read about it and spends quite a bit of time brooding on what she thinks Cal and the others may have had to experience. The loss and its consequences dominate her life, and it is only years later, after the children have grown up, that she even considers entering the dating pool again. We are given one disastrous example of an attempt at online dating that leaves her crushed.

Her son, Johnny, assumes the burden of being the man of the house when his father dies, even though he is still just a boy at the time. Ironically, he grows up to be involved in the safety side of the oil business, travelling the world and having temporary flings with women along the way. So it is a shock for him, in 2008, when Jane, who he met in Iceland, phones him to say she is expecting.

Jane also has her own narrative section in the book, as she works out what to do with her quite pregnant self, finds that her father has no sympathy, and finally decides to contact Johnny, who she has not seen since those wonderful days in Iceland.

Johnny contacts Helen, who has already gone through this unexpected baby adventure, first in her own life and then with one of her daughters. We know enough about Johnny by then to expect that he will attempt to do some version of the right thing as he sees it, but he has a few false starts before he comes to that conclusion.

In her mid-fifties Helen finds love again in the form of Barry, the contractor she has hired to do some repairs on the house, which she has been thinking of selling. Her daughters persuade her to get the work done. It’s a long process and she and Barry get used to each other as it progresses. We can see it coming from almost the first day in 2008, but it’s interesting to watch this pair fumbling towards intimacy.

I’m not bothered by the fact that Moore moves between present tense (for 2008 and later) and past tense (everything else) narratives in the book, but I have to admit I am put off by the lack of quotation marks for peoples’ dialogue. To me, this robs the characters’ speeches of their individuality and makes their conversation seem like a second hand account paraphrased by the author.

That aside, I enjoyed the book a great deal and appreciate how Moore used the events of the platform’s disaster as the emotional center of her character’s lives.

February was the Winner of Canada Reads 2013 and was and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize when it came out in 2009. Moore was a mentor author at the annual Young Authors’ Conference in 2010.




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