by Mary Lawson

Mary Lawson is well known as the late-blooming, Canadian-born author of two bestselling books. Now, with a third novel, Road Ends, she can justifiably lay claim to an oeuvre as well as a personal geography. If Ontario west of Toronto is Munro country then the area northwest of New Liskeard and Cobalt—where the fictional towns of Struan and Crow Lake that appear in Lawson’s books are roughly located—may well end up being dubbed Lawson Country.

Road Ends LAWSONWhat preoccupies Lawson in these small towns is families; specifically large, sibling-rich families pock-marked by tragedy. In her writing, Lawson has always been more about craftsmanship than innovation: what she does she does so impeccably that the triumph of duty over dreams seems somehow urgent and compelling. In each novel there’s also some kind pull from outside. In Crow Lake it was the city and university, in The Other Side of the Bridge it was the Second World War. In Road Ends, set in 1966–69, it’s the lure of Cool Britannia—though having forgone university to run the family household in tiny Struan, 21-year-old Megan is so blinkered she has no idea any such phenomenon exists; her aim is simply see the world before it’s too late.

Children forced to cope in the absence of their parents is another recurring theme in the novels. In Crow Lake this was literal: the parents of the Morrison children die in a road accident. Here, it’s figurative. Edward, the Cartwright family’s nominal head, avoids the nerve-shattering chaos of screaming children, unwashed laundry and uncooked meals by working late at the bank where he’s manager or holing himself up in his study, where he reads about great cities he’ll never visit. His “vague and forgetful” wife, Emily, meanwhile, has eyes only for her current baby, to the degree that four-year-old Adam literally goes hungry, his bed so drenched in urine that even the housekeeper won’t touch it.

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