Tell by Frances Itani


Set in a village in Canada shortly after the end of World War I, this story of the struggle to return to something close to normal life focuses on Kenan, who lost use of one arm and one eye and was terribly scarred. He has returned home, but at the outset never leaves the house. We learn about his strained connection with his wife Tress, his exchange of letters with another surviving veteran, and his conversations and nighttime outings with Tress's Uncle Am. The story of Uncle Am and Aunt Maggie unfold over the course of the book with shocking revelations coming late in the story. 

The great detail about life in a Canadian village at that time weigh the book down considerably. It seemed as though the memories each character had of growing up in the village were designed to bring the time and town to life, but the parts did not create an integrated whole for me. Some memories were only interesting to the person themselves (how one's mother made soap) and some seemed freighted with implications (Kenan who grew up on a chicken farm was only given one egg a year). Even the ones that seemed meaningful did not elucidate the character. In Kenan's case, he was given up for adoption and taken in by a man who did his best by him, and though he would have liked more eggs, Kenan was a happy young person before the war who married the lively and loving Tress.

I had previously read Remembering the Bones by Itani and though I found it made me uncomfortable, some of her thoughts were brilliant and worth the effort. Perhaps they were present in this book and I missed them.

Frances Itani, Tell, Grove Press, Black Cat, 2015, 272 pages (I listened to the audiobook). The book is available at the UVa library and from Amazon. It was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.

Add comment



Recent Posts


Blogs I Like