Working Through Our Thoughts | Review of “All The Things We Leave Behind” by Riel Nason (2016) Goose Lane Editions

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Thought. It is the bane of our existence at times. We dwell at times with things like: memories, obsessions, fears, emotions, sentiment and so forth. We know we need to get over things at times yet  thoughts sometimes freeze us into a place that we can barely move. We need to work through those thoughts even though they may take us into an odd or uncomfortable place. And that is one of the many messages that one can pick in Riel Nason’s exquisite novel All The Things We Leave Behind.

Page 13

There’s a little sign above the front door of our family business that says “Charles J. Davis and Son Antiques” in a fancy old-fashioned script, but no one seems to notice it and everybody calls the place The Purple Barn. It’s just as well. The son, my brother Bliss, is missing, and Charlie J. and my mother are of searching, trying to find the path he took. I was left here alone and in charge. I’m not sure that promoting me to running the whole show was among Dad’s best ideas ever, but my parents already have enough on their minds that they don’t need anything except business-as-usual updates from me. I’ll head inside soon and see how it goes. My parents left yesterday.

Fans of Nason have been eagerly waiting for this book since her first novel The Town That Drowned came out and won international awards and acclaims a few years ago. And the wait has been worthwhile. Nason has crafted a story here about 17-year-old Violet who has been left alone to manage her parents’ antique store while they are in search for her older, restless brother. We read through Violet’s thoughts and emotions as she tries hard to deal with the day-to-day running of a business in a small town and trying to cope with the disappearance of her brother.

Page 104

Really, so many of the objects I’m surrounded by every day, the items in the store, ended up here because of a death. It’s true that you can’t take it with you, and something has to be done with all the things we leave behind. Families keep what they want from an estate, but there is often more left over. Our stock is what remains.

At least the things in our store usually come from the estates of old people. But just because you’re old doesn’t mean your death isn’t a tragedy. I don’t think anyone plans on dying the day they die, so essentially everyone’s life is cut short. Does anyone leave their house clean every time they go out in case they die of an aneurysm, the same way they never wear underwear with holes in case they’re in an accident? Does anyone ask themselves: If you died today, would you be ready to have your house rummaged through? Where are your Playboy magazines? Your hair dye? Your Ex-Lax? That holey underwear? Your pills? Your wig? Your everything. Every thing. All your stuff, your secrets.

What would you want people to have? Do you think they could every guess right? Everything we own has a reason for being with us. We bought it, it was a Christmas gift, we found it, we made it, we inherited it, someone left it at our place. But even we can forget where the things we have came, and their meaning changes in time.

Like The Town That Drowned, Nason may have thought she was writing a book for young adults but this novel has universal appeal. She has taken what is usually a muddle of thoughts, emotions, despairs and desires for any person to deal with and has laid them out in a linear and concise fashion. And in that act, any reader – of any age –  can ponder and learn from this tale.

Page 159-160

I slip off my sandals, move from my chair and sit on a rock at the very edge of the stream. I dunk my feet in the cool water, rest them on submerged green moss. It feels good to squish my toes, knead them, against the spongy surface. A bit of dirt stirs and I can see moss pieces begin to lift and lat. I use my toenails to dig and loosen the green edges. More fragments of moss detach and move down stream. Soon enough I feel something more solid. It’s small and flat –  metal I think. I reach down beneath my big toe and lift out an old brown penny that had been hidden under the moss. It must be one that Bliss and I threw in years ago. We used to have so much fun back here. We’d spend hours and hours. Playing, talking, laughing. I turn the coin over and over in my hand. Then I flick it high in the air, let it flip and spin before it splashes in the water.

I make a wish. But I’m not saying what for. Even though I know it’s impossible to spoil a wish for something that can’t come true anyway.

Riel Nason has crafted an exquisite novel in All The Things We Leave Behind. She has taken of flurry of thoughts and emotions and laid them out in a simple and linear fashion that gives any reader something to ponder and reflect on. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Riel Nason’s website

Link to Goose Lane’s website for All The Things We Leave Behind

Link to my Q&A with Riel Nason – “It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write. It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years. Sometimes I went months and months without working on it”

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