I'll be Watching by Pamela Porter

As Remembrance Day nears, narratives that bear witness to the long fingers of war beg to be read. I've been meaning to get to this one for ages, and am so glad it surfaced from my book piles, encouraging me to read it now. 

This is a book that packs a wallop. Each character's voice and perspective are represented in verse. Through this, the town of Argue, Saskatchewan, as it was in the 1930's and 1940's, is revealed in all it's glory and tarnish: a village where the best and worst of humanity take refuge. 

“We are all stumbling and falling under our own crosses,
those carved from our hands, our sweat,
and those not of our own making.”

Imagine the prairies in the early 1940's.
Look close and you will see a father 
drinking to keep from remembering 
the great war, a lost farm, and his wife's death. 

His four children Ran, Jim, Norah, and Addie 
struggle to carry on against the backdrop of 
a stepmother, who 
with her small minded, self righteous, religiosity, 
undoes, bit by bit, their mother's work. 

Set those children on their own,
abandoned by their father's death, 
and stepmother's folly,
prey to about as much kindness and evil 
as any small town can conjure up.

Watch the ghost of their mother,
as best she can, 
nurture and keep them safe. 

There is true evil in this tale. It's not the evil of marauding armies. It's not even the impersonal evil of a system where young boys head off to war in exchange for new boots and three square meals a day. Evil in Argue, Saskatchewan, is personal. It manifests itself in greed, incest, rumour and prejudice. 

On the other hand, there is also true kindness. It's in the actions of some townsfolk who go out of their way to support the abandoned children. It's in the sharing of books across race and culture. It's there in a community coming together to hold on to each other in the face of death. 

I think there is an assumption that books written in prose are easy reads. Porter, in both The Crazy Man, (another book I've read and loved) and now in I'll be Watching, challenges this. This book wrenched my heart out. I wept buckets. More than once. 

Five out of five stars. 

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