In the blueberry fields of Maine in 1962, a four-year-old Mi’kmaq girl named Ruthie goes missing. Her family, who annually travels from Nova Scotia to Maine to harvest the berries, searches frantically for her, but no trace is found. Ruthie’s older brother Joe was the last to see her and is deeply affected for the rest of his life by her disappearance. As an adult man now suffering from terminal disease, Joe narrates much of the novel and describes how the family survives in the absence of Ruthie.
This Is the House That Luke Built begins with Rose stepping through a wall of the house that her husband Luke was working on. He has died at sea, but through the house, Rose can temporarily see him again. Violet Browne draws on her own experience with loss and builds it into the foundations of Rose’s story as it unfolds. Despite the title and opening scene, much of the book is not about the titular house or Rose’s visits with Luke; rather, we stay close to Rose as she navigates the impact of the loss on herself and her three children, both in the immediate aftermath and over the years that follow.
Any definition of modernity is, by virtue of its subject, vertigo-inducing. A phenomenon that necessarily remakes the world in its image, modernity spawns a reality where everything that follows its advent is indicative of its presence. What makes defining modernity hard is that definitions are, naturally, compartmentalizations, and thus things to which modernity cannot lend itself: there’s modernity in your clothes, modernity in your food (I’m not just talking about microplastics), and there’s modernity on your bookshelf. Modernity is everywhere, and trying to catalog something that’s everywhere is an arduous, if not unthinkable, task.
In a video for Crack Magazine, Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski makes the following statement: “You know, the sad girl thing was reductive and tired like five, ten years ago and it still is today,” in response to a fan tweeting that the day on which Mitski releases new music is a “big day for sad bitches.” Mitski’s statement is one we’ve been hearing a lot lately, in response to the onslaught of internet “sad girls,” who seem to have made it their mission to reduce popular media made by or about (young) women to a canvas that perfectly depicts their sadness. As a consumer and enjoyer of art that often gets the “for sad girls” label slapped on it, hearing Mitski’s response, I couldn’t help but agree with her and empathize with her frustration at having her art reduced to a pseudo-identity, but I also found myself feeling a sense of sympathy and understanding for the self-proclaimed “sad girls.”
Beneath the ordered cerebration of waking hour, beyond the sober images reeling before us, lurks a chimera of hypnagogic mirages and mauve phantoms. It is the shadowland where illicit lovers, infertile mothers, and poets embrace their ghosts and mourn their unborn. Women find themselves thrown into this dim realm of flickering forms at that late hour when the departure of their men abandons them to anxious conjectures of a life that could even now turn in their womb and mould into flesh with the ripening of time.
A quick scan of tourism sites for Prince Edward Island brings up photographs of red sand and lighthouses, as well as the occasional image of a redheaded young girl with two braids. Nicholas Herring’s novel Some Hellish is firmly planted on that same island but could not be farther from the bright whimsy of travel advertisements or children’s book covers. It follows a middle-aged fisherman, who shares the name Herring, quietly experiencing an existential crisis of sorts while going through the motions of his daily and seasonal work.