Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Juliet in August," by Dianne Warren

Things do happen in places where things never happen.

If history unfolds in the metropolis, the circle of life - birth, growth, death, and birth again - is magnified in the province.

"Juliet in August (Cool Water)" follows a few denizens of a homonymous western Canadian town for approximately two days' time.

The characters play out different personal dramas (emphasize dramas) related to the more incremental stops along that circle of life: the confused adolescent, the indebted family farmer, the cafe proprietor and her fading charms, the balding bank officer, the pregnant teen.

The author, Dianne Warren, chooses to run these dramas along separate rails, essentially laying out a handful of stories, breaking them up, and then interspersing those parts.

You spend a little time with Lee Torgeson on his desert trek, you jump to Willard at the drive-in, and then to Shiloh in his new basement room.

These are working folks and westerns folks, and Warren's prose reflects their idioms. "Juliet in August" strikes a nice balance between showing and explaining, alternating lively, regionally tinged dialogue with concise introspection. Warren's ear for the language of long-term matrimony is certain.

It's a grim with that silver-lining-of-hope kind of story. The humanity of these small and anonymous people out in the desert of Saskatchewan renders them universal. We can relate. We dream of escape, too.

There is no big bang here, no classic denouement once events have transpired. Perhaps a vague peak toward the end that closes the narrative somewhat.

There is no neat and tidy resolution to some of the problems the characters confront, only the lessons they impart. They have only tomorrow to look forward to and the next phase in their own circumnavigation.