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In his evocative debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, Kevin Holowack introduces us to a family grappling with artistic ambition, mental illness, and rifts that may not be possible to mend. Set in BC and Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s, this is a novel of finely observed vignettes offering a refracted look at art and family in the modern West.
A young artist, Ruth, and her obsessive husband, an aspiring poet, are struck by lightning, an experience that throws their lives into a universe of intense beauty and angst. Years later, Ruth lives on a farm her husband bought before his mysterious disappearance, and she creates idyllic but naïve paintings to cope with her confusion and loss. Then, without warning, her eldest daughter Gayle is love-struck by a travelling stranger and runs off to Edmonton where she too must contend with poverty, sickness, and her father’s upsetting legacy. Meanwhile, farm-bound Ruth becomes more frantic in her work and begins longing for human contact as her house and animals disintegrate around her.
As Gayle and Ruth seek new ways of connecting in order to remedy their unsettling family legacy, they begin a complicated process of renewal and must decide whether they can reconcile despite all the pain they have caused one another.
In a nearby house, a radio mumbles. A young woman and a girl sit in the upstairs bedroom. The girl creaks a rocking chair. The woman watches the storm through the window. Branches like suspended puppets.
Last year, she remembers, there was a storm like this that threw a tree clear through the kitchen window.
“Do you think it’ll happen again?”
“What are you talking about?” the girl asks.
A faint orange light slips between the cracks of the barn, flickers for a minute and disappears.
“There’s someone in the barn.”
The young woman puts on a jacket and walks out. When she opens the barn door, she brings with her a flood of lantern light.
The man in the hay is maybe eighteen, twenty, twenty-three? She bends over to get a closer look. A baby face but with stubble. A boy and a man at the same time, depending on the angle, like one of those novelty holograph pictures that changes when you flip it back and forth.
She leaves for a few minutes and returns with a plate of bread and cheese, a knife, and a glass bottle of water. She places the items by his elbow. He’s still as dirt. Almost. Probably not dead.
The rain continues overnight and into morning.
“I just brought him food and water, that’s all.”
“And the knife? I noticed it was missing.”
Her mother sighs. “You’re a silly girl, Gayle. A silly, stupid, silly girl.”
“I know you’re trying to help, but—why did you give a trespasser a weapon?”
Rain surrounds the house like static. Outside, grey light yawns through the clouds and falls on the yard, the fences, a truck pulling a trailer across the road, the trees, the barn—
“It’s fine, Gayle. I’ll call Davidson. He’ll come with his sons and they’ll drag him out.” The mother grabs the phone, sticks her finger in the first digit, pulls, watches the dial churn back.
“Those boys are morons. They’ll throw him out like a vagrant.”
“He is a vagrant.”
“But he’s my age, I think. Probably just some hippie. He’s got a mum, too.”
The stranger is still unconscious when they return.
“He doesn’t look so heavy,” says the mother. “Looks like he puked on himself, too, so—where do we bring him?”
“To the sofa in the library. Put some old blankets down.”
Gayle uses the edge of her coat to wipe matted straw from his face and then loops her arms around his shoulders. Her mother takes the legs.
"A mesmerizing story of love, loss and obsession for a family out of sync with the world and its modern constraints. In chronicling the imperfect lives of the Windsors on their quest to find beauty in forgotten places, Holowack has created a masterpiece. Every sentence its own triumph."
"Light on a Part of the Field takes the reader on two parallel paths, the first through a family’s individual experiences; the second, an ongoing contemplation of art, practice, love and philosophy as each member of the Windsor family embarks on the universal human quest for fulfillment and meaning."
"In Kevin Holowack’s novel Light on a Part of the Field, members of a flawed, dysfunctional family pursue their separate destinies, even though they cannot break their bonds with each other.... [This] is a quiet novel about traveling one’s own path, no matter how winding or bitter it may be."