Gail Anderson-Dargatz used to live on a farm near Millet, Alberta & now lives on Vancouver Island with her husband & son. THE CURE FOR DEATH BY LIGHTNING became an instant bestseller in Britain and Canada and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Award, the VanCity Book Prize and a Betty Trask Prize.
The year is 1941. For the Weeks family on their frontier farm in Western Canada, life is brutally hard, with moments of joy few and far between. Fifteen-year-old Beth Weeks narrates this coming-of-age story, which is sprinkled with recipes, home remedies and useful homesteading advice (e.g., how to kill and clean a chicken: keep it calm, since "there's nothing as frustrating as trying to kill a panicked chicken"). Though the inventory of authentic period detail is evocative, make no mistake: this is no warmhearted tale of pioneer life. Forget square dances and barn raisings; think bestiality and incest. Beth's tortured, demanding father, mentally ill following a traumatic bear attack and the lingering effects of a head injury he received in WWI, goes on one rampage after another. Beth, meanwhile, does her best to fight off various sexual predators, finding solace of sorts in a tentative love affair with Nora, a troubled half-Indian girl. But Coyote, a sinister shape-changing spirit, stalks them and others, infusing the plot with a weird mystical aura at odds with the hardscrabble realism of the descriptions of day-to-day life. A dysfunctional Little House on the Prairie, this bleak, violent saga is a disturbing mixture of period minutiae and grim supernatural phenomena. (May) FYI: The Cure for Death by Lightning is based on a short story that won the Canadian Broadcasting Company's literary competition in 1993.
YA‘Beth Weeks turns 15 during the early 1940s, when most of the eligible men in rural British Columbia have enlisted. Her older brother remains to help with the farm and to protect her from their father, who received a head injury in World War I and is a violent and unpredictable man. Beth's mother talks aloud, regularly, with her own long-dead mother. Beth comes of age under great obstacles. Her mother refuses to believe her when she tells how other kids torment her, so she stops going to school. She is sexually innocent but instinctively fears her father, and when he rapes her, she withdraws, knowing she can say nothing to her mother. It is her friendship with Bertha Moses, a Native American, and her extended family that sustains her. The community is wrestling with several problems, and it is Bertha who explains that all the bad things that are happening are caused by Coyote, the notorious shape-shifter, who is present, though disguised, and wreaking havoc. The characters are brilliantly portrayed. The writing is spare and powerful: the rape scene is brief and wrenching; the loneliness of Beth and her mother is painful. The writing is wonderful, and the details are just right, but this book is not easy to read. Mature YAs who seek to challenge and stretch their minds will find this a memorable novel.‘Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Evil lurks just below the bucolic surface of life on a farm in western Canada in the early days of World War II. Along with the arduous tasks that fill a typical farm day in the Forties are the added stresses of blackouts, rationing, and labor shortages. Fourteen-year-old Beth Weeks also has to contend with an erratic father who, after an encounter in the bush with a grizzly, becomes violent and abusive. She retreats for comfort into an intimate relationship with a girl from the neighboring reserve and into the well-worn pages of her mother's scrapbook, which contains family memorabilia, wonderful recipes (all included here), and folk remedies such as the title cure for death by lightning. Woven into this evocative coming-of-age novel are Indian legends, ghost tales, and mystical happenings in a manner that recalls Louise Erdrich at her best. Powerful and moving, this is highly recommended.-Barbara Love, Kingston P.L., Ontario