Life, Love and the ‘Hood You Live in | Review of “That Time I Loved You” by Carrianne Leung (2018) HarperCollins Publishers

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

Where we live is suppose to be a perfectly tranquil area where kids are suppose enjoy normal childhood lives. Yet we all perfectly know that in anybody’s life there are a series of angst, fears, hardships, and rage that darken our days. Carrianne Leung looks at one seemingly perfectly constructed neighbourhood explores some of the issues that exists behind their doors in her book That Time I Loved You.

Pages 4-5 Grass

That summer, as they watered their front lawns, the adults leaned across their fences and spoke in hushed voices, flooding their grass with their now forgotten hoses. Us kids gathered in the street with our road hockey gear and baseballs to share whatever intel we’d acquired and trade in gory details. Mr. Finley’s brain was supposedly splattered in a million bits across his basement. My friend  Darren said you couldn’t clean brain completely out- that stuff sticks. Darren knew a lot about brains because he was into comic books and his mother was a nurse, so we took whatever he said as fact. As for Mrs. Da Silva, everybody knew she wasn’t right in the head. We often saw her walking around in her housecoat talking and laughing to herself.

Nothing like this had ever happened in our quiet suburban neighbourhood before. No one had ever died before Mr. Finley. In downtown Toronto, where the dangerous people lived, at least according to my dad, it probably happened all the time. Dad said downtown was no place for kids because it was dirty and full of fast cars and shady characters, while out here in the suburbs, we were free to play on the street, leave our front doors unlocked and generally not worry about such things. Granted, there was a neighbourhood thief sneaking around, but only small, mostly worthless things were taken – forgotten gardening gloves on the lawn, chipped coffee mugs left on the porch, a rusty screwdriver in a garage. People assumed it was some weird kid’s idea of fun. I had my own opinion on who it was, and it was not kid. But no one listened to me anyway.

Leung has done something truly clever with this book. The opening story deals with a troubled kid realizing that there something wrong with her neighbourhood. A series of suicides in the perfectly-designed residential area has sent the adults into a quiet tither yet none are openly discussing the situations out load. But the rest of the stories look into the domestics situations and – more importantly – the thoughts of the residents of the neighbourhood. Leung has documented the zeitgeist of a suburban neighbourhood and given a complex view of the human condition where no other writer has gone before.

Pages 21-22 Flowers

On that day, the last day, the primroses were especially pretty. There red petals opened to kiss the summer sun. Mrs. Da Silva’s first thought upon waking that morning was to water them. She had tossed and turned all night in a restless sleep and woke up already tired. There had been no rain for days. In her faded cotton house dress, she pulled the garden hose from its long coil attached to the concrete wall of the house. She liked the ease of the garden hose, its coil, its simple tap, its reach. Everything was easy here, compared with Portugal. You had a house with a tap attached to the side wall. You turned it on and water came from the hose. After twenty years in this country, Mrs. D was still amazed. Spraying the water across the patch of grass and on the petals of the primroses was among her favourite things. Each blade of grass and small flower shook and shivered under the mist raining down. When she turned, the flowers whispered two words in Portuguese behind her back that sounded like a sigh: The letter.

Her finger released the lever of the nozzle on her hose. She stood silently in the glistening grass, her toes getting wet through her slippers. She waited to her more, but the flowers went silent. Mrs. D wondered how the flowers knew about the letter, but then she remembered that they knew everything about her, as if there were an invisible thread that ran between them. The letter had arrived two days earlier, and she had read it, memorized its contents, but the news didn’t seem real, more like a ghostly whisper from far away. Only when thing flowers uttered the words in their familiar accent, as if they too had come from her fishing village in São Miguel, did the letter feel true. There were facts in the letter. The flowers confirmed it. Her mãe, her beautiful mother, was dead.

The beauty of this book is that it documents complex situations in a simple, almost every-day language. It is easy to read yet the concepts are familiar and universal. We all have sensed the frustrations and fears of the characters involved yet may have not truly considered them or discussed them out loud. Leung’s book forces many of us to come to realize many things about the world around us that we may not have considered before.

Pages 112 Kiss

It was clear how much Uncle Bill adored Louisa by the way he held her hand when they went for walks around the neighbourhood on Louisa’s good days, or by the gentle voice he used when he asked her if she was hungry. Josie had never seen a man take care of a woman before. Although her mother worked the same long hours as her father, it was still up to Josie, her mother and her sister to do all the cooking and cleaning.

Aunt Louisa and Uncle Bill lived a fifteen-minute walk away, outside the enclave of the sister streets. Instead of hanging out with June and the other kids on Winifred after lunch in the August heat, Josie would head over to her aunt and uncle’s house to start dinner. When school began that fall, she didn’t even wait to walk home with June and dashed to their place right after the bell.

Even though her aunt was sick, they had a lot of fun together. Aunt Louisa would keep her company from a chair in the corner of the kitchen while Josie chopped vegetables or swept. Aunt Louisa, already thin, would sit with her feet on another chair, propped up with pillows and wearing a big scarf around her head. She looked to Josie like a fragile egg, her skin so pale it was almost translucent. Despite the rapid changes to her appearance, Aunt Louisa still like to talk and asked her about school and her friends in a way her mother never did.

Carrianne Leung has given readers something serious and emotional to consider in her book That Time I Loved You.  Her story lines are unique and insightful which makes this book a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for That Time I Loved You

Link to Carrianne Leung’s website

 

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