By Angie Abdou
With a wink to Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, Angie Abdou assembles her own group of diverse personalities and sends them on a pilgrimage. She mixes up a batch of locals, foreigners, ski-bums, red-necks, hippies and urbanites and takes them trekking up a mountain one beautiful spring weekend for a last taste of powder. They ski, snowshoe and snowmobile their way up to “Camelot” the local ski cabin. Each group is unaware of the others and is somewhat dismayed to find that they must share the space. But they all make the best of it, and with more than a bit of booze and pot to help mellow out some of the conflicts, there is much ribald fun.
This is not a plot-driven story, although there is a definite agenda: climb the mountain and conquer the slopes; enjoy. This is a study in characters, and as we meet each one, we learn a bit about their personality and their reasons for participating in this venture. In time we get to see more than what appears on the surface, and although we might not always like what we see, we gain some insights and come to care about what happens to them.
Obviously, combining such disparate types could lead to conflict and tension, and it does. But there is also a lot of comedy, and some scenes made me laugh out loud, tears rolling down my cheeks. After an evening of indulgence, Alison (urbanite journalist) is horribly sick the next morning, and when she throws up from the upstairs bedroom window, it is so vivid, you can almost smell it. Then Lanny (the miller) having spent the night outside, wakes up from the noise and the odour hits him so hard that he makes a snowball to suck and hold under his nose, so that he doesn’t succumb. Amusing as this scene is, it also helps solidify the characters. We’ve all been there. We can immediately identify with these people so they seem more real to us, and we like them a bit more. This is just one of many examples that illustrate Abdou’s talent for making her characters come to life.
There is humour in various forms throughout the book and in general the tone is fairly casual and low-key. Some of the characters have serious issues to deal with, but the book itself feels quite light-hearted overall. Like most of us, they lead their lives in a fairly trusting way. Then, with a whumpf we are reminded that nature has its own rhythm, and if we are caught in it, it is terrifying, implacable, inexorable…final.
With The Bone Cage, Abdou showed us her talent for plunging us into the heart of the story from the very first sentence. She does the same here, and also delights us with her humour. But with her ending we see an entirely new side to her writing. She lulls us into a fun adventure, then hits us hard. In a last moving, powerful section, Abdou takes us “…somewhere beyond words.” All we can do is sit back and admire.