Learning that a “Place” shapes our Identity as well |Review of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (2017) Harper Avenue

Jean E. Pendziwol will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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‘Place’ plays an important element in our identities. Where we are from and how we were raised in those surroundings play important parts to our personalities. Yet sometimes we forget where we came from and wonder why we feel so ‘lost’ in our modern-day lives. And that is the theme that Jean E. Pendziwol explores in her novel The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.

Page 10-11 Morgan

“All right.” Ms. Campbell sighs, extending the folder in her hand. “You’re Morgan Fletcher,” she removes her glasses and places them on the desk. “I see.”

I know what she sees. She sees what she wants to. She sees my straight black hair, dyed so that it shines like midnight. She sees dark kohl circling my gray eyes, my tight jeans and high black boots and the row of silver studs along my earlobes. She sees my pale face that I’ve made even paler, and my bright red lips. She doesn’t see that I am, maybe just a little scared. I won’t let her see that.

I slouch back into the chair, and cross my legs. So that’s how it’s going to be. Fine.

Ms. Campbell opens the folder. “Well, Morgan, community hours, is it? I says here that you have agreed to clean up the graffiti and assist with further maintenance work under the direction of our maintenance supervisor.” She looks at me again. “You’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday right after school for the next four weeks.”

“Yup.” I tap my toe against the front of the desk and look at my fingernails. They are painted red, like my lips. Blood red.

“I see,” she says. Again. Ms. Campbell pauses for a moment, and I can tell that she is studying me. I know what’s in that folder. I don’t want her judgement. Worse, I don’t want her pity. I shift my gaze to a spider plant on the top of the filing cabinet. She sighs again. “Well, then I guess we`d better get you introduce to Marty.” She leaves the folder containing my past on her desk, and I have no choice; I follow her down the hall.

This is Pendziwol’s first novel and has become one of my favourite’s of the 2017 publishing season. She does two things in a work of fiction that I enjoy  – uses a lyrical style that helps the plot flow AND documents an element of a human condition that conveys a feeling we all endure; wondering who we are and where we come from. The plot weaves between two main characters. Morgan, who is a teenage, angst-ridden, and confused young woman and Elizabeth, a blind, elderly resident of a nursing room. As the two meet and converse, they find out they both have a common history descending from a family who were lighthouse keepers on a series of islands in Lake Superior. Each chapter is told through one of the two women as they slowly learn elements of their common family history.

Pages 76-77 Elizabeth

They stay only about half an hour, and then the nuggets find a resting place in the garbage pail beside the sofa, the latest toy is dropped into the Hello Kitty backpack, and Mr. Androsky is wheeled back to his room, slurping up the last few sips of milk shake. It is a ritual I dismissingly tolerate, but secretly envy.

I have no family to come visit me. No weekly offerings of barely digestible fast food, no cards on my birthday, no one asking if I am well that week or need anything. It is only when I hover on the periphery of Mr. Androsky`s life that it occurs to me that I am missing something. Emily was my life. Yes, there was Charlie, too, for a time. But I could not bring myself to reach out to him. I could not forgive his misguided actions or contemplate an apology from him, should he even wanted to provide one. And I could not be sorry for those things that he would not forgive. So we lived in mutual exile from each other.  He was never acknowledged, never present, but always a shadow that hovered just beyond our existence. We had been so close, the three of us; he our champion and we his adoring followers. But darkness swallowed us, and when I had to choose,  I chose Emily.

This is one of those books I would recommend a person takes a few minutes at the end of a busy day to sit down with and ponder over. While it is a lyrical read, the prose is also simple and elegant. Pendziwol is also able to capture the speech patterns of each of her protagonists here perfectly. A reader can clearly grasp both what young Morgan or elderly Elizabeth are thinking and desiring. Empathy comes easily with the well-crafted phrases Pendziwol uses here.

Page 274 Elizabeth

I stand beneath the shower, hands gripping the chrome bars fastened to the tile walls. Water rains down, trickling like a thousand streams across my body. I close my eyes and lift my head, allowing the drops to flood my face and mold my hair until it hangs, sleek and thick, a snowy river dripping puddles that collect at my feet and disappear down the drain in the floor. I can feel the wolf, prowling. He is becoming more persistent, visiting almost daily now. He is patient. He sits, watching, waiting. I wipe my eyes, but they fill as quickly, and I don’t bother clearing them again. I reach out a hand, exploring the wall until I find the tap and turn it fully it fully to the right. I gasp when the cold water stabs at me, as cold as the Lake. My eyes flash open at the shock, but still they see nothing. My skin prickles. My pulse quickens.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is certainly one of my favourite reads of the 2017 season. It is emotional and lyrical and enlightening. Certainly a great piece of literature and hopefully not one of the last of novels from this author.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol`s website

Link to my Q&A with Jean E. Pendziwol – “Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.”

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