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“Coming to Grips with the Changes Back Home” | Review of “Passing Through” by David Penhale (2011) Cormorant Books


One of the major aspects of the human condition is how humans deal with change. We set ourselves with certain patterns in our lives and then something ‘out of the blue’ happens and we must somehow adjust to that change. It can be quite a shock to the system. That is what happens to the main character of David Penhale’s novel Passing Through and his journey makes for an enlightening read.

Page 1

It was Friday, the beginning of the weekend in the Middle East, a day to lace on a pair of boots, stick a map in your pocket and head for the desert.

But Daniel Foster was in Toronto, not Dubai. In his daughter’s townhouse, not the apartment in Golden Sands. Tall and tanned, he had dark hair with a touch of silver at the temples. His business suit, tailored by Frazier & Son of Savile Row, had won the respect of many a maitre d’. The box of Froot Loops on the counter belonged to his granddaughter. He tugged open the fridge and frowned at the empty shelves.

Out for breakfast then. Foster put on his raincoat and patted for the keys to his Mercedes. He felt a jolt of panic. He had no keys. The sheiks had cut him loose. Bracing himself against the mild September day, he stepped out the door and spun around to inspect 27 Mazurka Street.

It is easy enough to empathize with the main character David Foster. We all have had one or two major goals in our life change because of some sort of odd circumstance. Foster finds himself in that type of situation. After working for years in the middle east, Foster is about to retire and buy a villa in Thailand. But, while visiting his daughter and granddaughter in Toronto, the bank that holds his savings crashes, and Foster needs to build an existence that is more North-American suburban than he is use to in order to survive.

Page 126-127

There were signs everywhere: This Christmas, come back to Grandpa’s! Wondering what to give? Ask Grandpa! Foster le Mr. Capacitor – the trainees had practised this mnemonic trick in Florida – past table saws and microwave ovens and closet storage systems. Men in plaid and denim unpacked light bulbs, worked tinting machines, walked around with hand tools in the pockets of their overalls. “Grandpa Wilson,” Foster said when he and Mr. Capacitor stood in Electrical. “Can you help this gentleman?”

In the locker room, Foster punched the time clock and changed into his uniform. He felt self-conscious as he made his way to Nails ‘n Glue wearing the Grandpa gear, but, with so many men wearing the same costume, no one paid him any mind. It was, he supposed,like being naked in a nudist colony.

“How’s business?” Foster said.

“Slow, friend.” Charlie was leaning on a counter. “Contractors, mostly. We’re low on two-inch drywall screws. A skid needs to come down. I put in a toe-motor request.” Charlie looked thoughtfully over the sales floor. “I had to walk a guy over to tools. We should have the drywall guns in this department.”

Foster smiled. Charlie had never really bought Gary Garth’s concept of an old-fashioned hardware store. “You might be happier in tools. You know a lot about them.”

“I’m okay here. How’s your daughter?”


“And the little girl?”

“Fine.” Foster ran a hand over the counter. Like all the props in the store, it was fake. In Florida, he had stuck his head in the fixtures department and watched a man beating a board with a length of chain. Best way to age pine, the man had said. As if the world wasn’t aging quickly enough.

There is something endearing about Foster’s fall from grace and his search to regain his old life. His thoughts and observations as he tries – and many cases flubs – an attempt at some sort of existence during his stay in Toronto provides observations that should be reflected on in general.

Page 236-237

“Dinner’s ready,” Foster called, untying his apron. No response. He went to the living room. “Shawna?”

The television snapped into silence. Shawna came to the table, peered down at her plate and crinkled her nose. “Eew! What is this?”

“Kidney beans with toast.”

Shawna looked at him. “You heated up kidney beans?”

“Try it.”

“Nobody heats up kidney beans.”

“it’s good.”

“There’s no way I’m eating that.”

“Shawna, we’re pretty good friends, aren’t we?”

His granddaughter looked at him skeptically.

“Well, your mother is counting on us to work together during this . . . emergency, and -”

“Hel-lo You put kidney beans in three-bean salad. You don’t heat them up.”

“Three-bean salad. That’s a terrific idea. I’ll make that next time.”

Foster dipped a spoon in the steaming broth and smacked his lips, mugging delight.”Hmm, hmm.”

“Foster?” Shawna looked at him with flint in her eyes. “I’m not four years old.” She pushed back her chair.

“You should say, ‘May I be excused from the table?'”

“May-I-can-I-should-I start my homework? I mean, if it’s okay.”

“Why don’t we tell each other about our day? I vacuumed the house and then I went for a walk. Do you know there’s a zoo in High Park? They have capybaras, wallabies . . .”

Shawna stared at him.

“What did you do today?”

“Went to school.”

“What did you did learn?”


There was a silence, and then Shawna said, “After school tomorrow? There’s an information session about soccer.”

“Do you like soccer?”

Shawna shrugged. “How come you didn’t go to work today?”

Sharp cookie, his granddaughter. Didn’t miss a thing. “I’ll keep this warm for you.” Foster slipped a plate over Shawna’s bowl. He watcher her walk down the hall to her room. A thumping rhythm erupted, setting the bubble-glass animals jittering around in the wall unit.

Passing Through by David Penhale is a enlightening look at the human condition. Change is something we all must deal with in our lives, and witnessing Daniel Foster’s journey in how he deals with change and crisis gives readers food for thought.

Link to David Penhale’s website

Link to Cormorant Books page for Passing Through