Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Casualties

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Casualties

Article excerpt

Casualties. Terrence Heath. Regina: Coteau, 2005. 328 pp. $19.95 sc.

A detective story that thoughtfully revisits 1930s prairie history, Terrence Heath's Casualties is a narrative rife with romance, hardship, and tragedy. With eight previous publications under his belt--including a novel (The Last Hiding Place 1982), a collection of short stories (The Truth and Other Stories 1972), and a book of poetry (Interstices of Night 1979)--Heath brings considerable experience to his newest book, and one has the sense (not only from the author's acknowledgements but also from the text itself) that a good deal of archival research went into the writing of it. Indeed, Casualties' greatest strength is its portrayal of events in Canada's past that are in danger of slipping through the cracks of Canadian history.

The book begins by introducing readers to Clara Stemichuk, a well-to-do Toronto woman in her sixties who has just lost her husband Peter (nicknamed "Chuck"). The extent to which she really knew Chuck is called into question when, shortly after his funeral, Clara finds a note in the pocket of his tuxedo jacket: signed by one Thomas Pennan, the note is a murder confession ("I killed Margaret" [p. 3]). Who is Pennan? Who is Margaret? As she ponders the meaning of the note, Clara receives a phone call from a man who claims to have fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside her husband. Was Chuck a soldier in Spain? In search of answers to her many questions, Clara sets out for Vancouver on the off-chance that Pennan lived there. After Vancouver, she chases clues to Regina and then to England; along the way, she meets Sidney Penner, a widower who becomes Clara's "co-detective" and tentative love-interest.

Clara and Sidney's present-day narrative is frequently interrupted by flashbacks to the past. We learn that Chuck and Tom met in 1934 when both were young men; Chuck, a Ukrainian communist, moved into the Pennan family home shortly thereafter. Margaret, we discover, was a young woman who lived next door to the Pennans. A complex web of unrequited love is then spun (Margaret loves Chuck, as does Tom's sister Nell, and Tom loves Margaret); as a direct consequence of their feelings for each other, the characters become embroiled in Communist politics. …

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