What Is Left the Daughter
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Howard Norman, widely regarded as one of this country’s finest novelists, returns to the mesmerizing fictional terrain of his major books—The Bird Artist, The Museum Guard, and The Haunting of L—in this erotically charged and morally complex story.
Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents, within hours of each other, jump off two different bridges—the result of their separate involvements with the same compelling neighbor, a Halifax switchboard operator and aspiring actress. The suicides cause Wyatt to move to small-town Middle Economy to live with his uncle, aunt, and ravishing cousin Tilda.
Setting in motion the novel’s chain of life-altering passions and the wartime perfidy at its core is the arrival of the German student Hans Mohring, carrying only a satchel. Actual historical incidents—including a German U-boat’s sinking of the Nova Scotia–Newfoundland ferry Caribou, on which Aunt Constance Hillyer might or might not be traveling—lend intense narrative power to Norman’s uncannily layered story.
Wyatt’s account of the astonishing—not least to him— events leading up to his fathering of a beloved daughter spills out twenty-one years later. It’s a confession that speaks profoundly of the mysteries of human character in wartime and is directed, with both despair and hope, to an audience of one.
An utterly stirring novel. This is Howard Norman at his celebrated best.
with the portrait meant I had a sudden concern about them becoming an old married couple. Who knows? Maybe they'd become well-to-do, maybe they'd end up living in England. I didn't like the thought, but you can't help where your mind goes, can you? Supper was pleasant enough, all "Please pass the bread" and "What is life like at university, Hans?" But I could see that Hans thought Tilda was the cat's pajamas—also, they'd been seen together in public, at Cornelia's bakery, Parrsboro Wharf,
good. Yet when Tilda stole, in plain sight, a spoonful of Hans's dessert of vanilla ice cream (he'd refused the maple syrup), the playfulness of it made me blurt out, "Hans, why would a person in their right mind get hypnotized nine times, anyway?" Tilda corkscrewed her ears. Not only was I reckless in referring to the reason Reverend Witt had suggested that Tilda visit a mesmerist—that was a sore subject in our house—but, in the same breath, I'd more or less suggested that Hans, too, wasn't
deceased was named Darwin Timbertea, age ninety-one, succumbed to pneumonia. Other than clergy, the only one there was a nephew. After the service, the nephew drove me to the bus. In the car, I couldn't hold back and harshly criticized the caretaker, and the nephew said, 'My uncle Darwin was the caretaker.'" At four P.M. I went to the recruiting station, corner of Duke Street and Argyle. The desk attendant, in Navy uniform, was direct. "You're here to kill Germans, I hope, and to do Canada
telephone call in general. Specifically, it was mention of my wife's wardrobe trunk." "I don't understand." "Navy Secretary Macdonald said her personal wardrobe trunk had been identified. Naturally, my wife'd sewn her name and address on the lining—who wouldn't have? Anyway, Secretary Macdonald said, 'Her body's not yet recovered, but the trunk has been,' and those were his exact words." In my chair in the front row, I closed my eyes and pictured my aunt's black 2 × 2 × 3 Hartmann cushion-top
with a Haligonian named Wilma Raymond. People had seen them together, but nobody would ever have known Timm's true identity except for the fact that on their last night together, Timm got drunk and told Wilma everything. He even proposed marriage! She refused him, and as she later said, "He stumbled out of my apartment and just disappeared into the streets." Wilma Raymond was the niece of the bartender at Rigolo's Pub. She was horrified to discover the photograph her uncle had put up behind the