I’ve finished Century, my fifth and final book for Kerry Clare’s Canada Reads Indies. I had put this one off because it just didn’t speak to me (the dark cover I suppose). Then I couldn’t get it from the library. But Kerry’s glowing review convinced me to buy it, and now I don’t know why I waited so long to read it.
However, I’m not quite sure how to write about this book. I have lots of ideas swirling about, but I’m having trouble putting anything coherent together. First, the form: I’m not sure if the book is a short story collection, or a novel. It spans a century and multiple continents. It’s nonlinear, in two parts. Part One, Family, includes the stories of four family members: Jane, a “child of the sixties” commits suicide at her parents’ home; Ian and Stephanie separate and reconcile after the death of their young daughter; Bill survives his wife, daughter and granddaughter and looks for solace in planning a garden; Gwen keeps her cancer and serial infidelity secret from her preoccupied husband. Part Two, The Continental, is comprised of two stories, set in 1893 and 1923, connected by Kenniston Thorson, thoughtful connoisseur of art, literature, and women. Kenniston’s ruminations guide us in our understanding of the issues raised in the first part.
Exploring universal themes–loss, need, guilt, grief, power, to name just a few–the book raises more questions than answers. How should we experience the world: cerebrally, physically, altruistically, selfishly? Do we live our lives with restraint or abandonment? How do men and women’s experiences differ, and what role does power play in these differences? As Kerry notes, Smith writes about women very thoughtfully and empathetically.
Powerful and poetic, Century tackles big issues for such a slim volume. Inadvertent as it was, I’m glad I saved the best for last.
Here are my final Canada Reads Indies rankings: