Anna from Away by D.R. Macdonald

Publication Date: September 11th, 2012
HarperCollins Canada
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
When Anna Starling flees a dissolving marriage in California to save herself and her artistic career in Cape Breton, her life intersects with that of Red Murdock, a cabinetmaker who has recently lost the great love of his life, Rosaire. Surrounded by old ghosts and echoes of those who once lived in this isolated, now depleted community, Anna and Murdock discover that the present is inextricably linked with the past, and that both can lead to moral dilemmas. How grave is sexual betrayal? Who is behind the bale of marijuana that washes up on Anna’s shore, and what should she, an outsider, and Murdock, rooted in this place and attracted to her, do about it? Can Anna and Murdock ever overcome the pain of the past?
Part erotic love story, part quest for home and heart, Anna From Away is a superbly crafted tale of love after love, a novel rich in atmosphere and infused with lyrical descriptions of land and sea. Written with an ear for the cadences of Cape Breton and a profound understanding of the many emotional shadings that exist between the sexes, this novel is another superb work from D.R. MacDonald.
In an effort to start anew after her marriage died a quiet death, Anna took off to the isolated little coastal town of Cape Seal. Surrounded by the waning winter and a timid spring, she attempted to resuscitate  her art, reinvent the old Anna, and fill in the blanks of what had happened to her marriage. She found inspiration everywhere and solitude that brought forth memories of a marriage gone sour. Some days, the little town offered her solace but it also magnified the loneliness that crept up as the winter cold refused to leave. In the midst of her soul-searching and self-doubts, she found assistance from an unlikely source to help her pick up the pieces of her shattered self-esteem. 

Fraught with grief over the loss of his beloved, Red Murdock’s days consisted of drunken stupors and regrets. But for the first time since Rosaire’s death, sparks of life started to bloom and it’s all thanks to the resident of his former childhood home. But moving on is not that easy especially if you’re plagued with guilt for a love that slowly deteriorated like that of Rosaire’s health.

This is another one of my attempts to venture out of YA. It’s odd, in a good way. The startling difference is how I’m more forgiving of the book’s characters and the book itself – which to me, was really surprising. The thing is, I don’t have a set perception of how an adult fiction novel would turn out. So that lends to my care-free attitude when I tackle books outside of what I normally like. I find no generalizations or any stereotyping in this genre; unlike in YA where a lot of books follow the same blue print. I’m still a big reader of YA; it’s just sometimes, it’s refreshing to read stories of characters right around my age.

This is told through both Anna’s and Murdock’s point of views; two lonely souls getting by through the dreary spring of East Coast Canada. There’s something equally depressing in this season – even more depressing than Winter itself. It’s the never ending battle between rising temperature (hope) and the frigid temperature that follows the thaw. It’s mother nature’s version of cock-tease, if you ask me. The weather added another layer of gloominess to the even more depressing cycles of thoughts between our characters but it wasn’t to the point that you’ll be entertaining suicidal thoughts.

Anna and Murdock are usually on their own; hence the persistent eulogies and soliloquies for things  that are inconsequential. But see? This is how the author tells you how lonely they were. If you were alone, your mind would go to places that you’d normally tell it not to. You would obsess about what happened in the past and how you would change it, even if it were wasted energy spent on a futile exercise. And I normally loathe books heavy with narrative because it drove me nuts when characters describe every little thing about anything under the sun. It’s too much information that I don’t need. In this book, however, I learned to appreciate it. I was more forgiving. Anna, especially, was subduedly poetic of all the inanimate objects that she picked up on her walks. It’s the artist in her that saw through life in every single useless items that washed up on the shores.

Murdock was pretty much the same; only it was much more painful to read him obsessed about how much he should’ve done for Rosaire while drinking his life away in the process. But even in his drunken stupor, you’ll see hope beginning to bloom. I rooted for him, wanted him to get off his drunken ass and start polishing his wood (he’s a woodworker. Get yer mind out of the gutters, sickos.). And you’ll see it too. You’ll see when he starts to get sick of his own thoughts, of himself and of his grief. You’ll see his desire to just get over it already.

The author was deadly accurate with the ambiance he was shooting for. That part of Canada remains one of those untouched frontiers for me, regardless of the reality that it faces (diminishing population due unemployment, poverty – both because of a dying fishing industry). I also loved the old-world charm he presented; so archaic and charming and sublime. With his words everything just seemed magnified, brightened, more exposed. Or maybe it’s just the way my imagination goes sometimes.

VERDICT: Anna from Away is a story of second chances and how a couple of people would strive not to squander that away. Set in the backdrop of the picturesque Cape Breton, the author took advantage of the scenery to proliferate the characters’ need for self exploration. This book was artistically beautiful and garish that can only be appreciated by a forgiving, generous but critical few.

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