by Deborah Rogers –
Welcome to another year of Seaside Book Club! We started our fifth year off with a bang, combining a stunning Canadian read with a discussion with its Vancouver Island writer. The Heaviness of Things That Float was the debut novel by Jennifer Manuel and is wholly influenced by the years she spent living and working in a remote First Nations community. The novel focuses on Bernadette, a white woman, who has been the nurse for an isolated First Nations community for 40 years. Weeks from retirement she’s thinking about her life at the outpost and reminiscing over her relationships, when an emergency happens and she is suddenly also faced with a huge loss.
It is a beautiful book and our group was deeply affected by its sense of place and Manuel’s ability to take the reader and situate them on that remote shore, surrounded by the wilds of the ocean and forest and all the creatures within. Bernie’s story raises many interesting questions about the nature of belonging, the meaning of being an outsider, and whether a white person can ever really integrate into an Indigenous community.
The book is full of sparkling and strongly drawn characters. They are complex and their personal stories demonstrate the way that tragedy is interwoven into all lives; the legacy of abuse and trauma are pervasive and touch everyone. Yet it’s not a heavy book – heavy subject matter yes, but there is lots of love, laughter and beauty in it too.
Our readers had many questions for Jennifer, and she kindly gave an hour of her time to answer them. Most readers are fascinated by the writing process and we began asking the where, when and why of how the book came about. Usually at Book Club when we discuss an author’s motives we have to rely on internet searches and our best guesses; it was fascinating to have honest and open responses to our questions of whether Bernie is based on anyone specific (yes, mainly on Jennifer herself) and were the metaphorical tales of the “Basket Lady”, “Mucus Boy” etcetera ones that she had herself been told (yes, and lots more besides). We talked about cultural appropriation and about the reaction to the book from First Nations readers.
Before we finished Jennifer informed us that there is a new book on its way, and I think we all felt equally happy about that news!
Book Club continues on Zoom for the time being. In February we will meet on Tuesday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss podcasts; we’re inviting everyone to listen to a podcast, maybe something that is outside your usual range of subject matter, and tell the group about it. To receive the link you need to be registered on our email list. Sign up: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.