Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Book review: Alone in the Classroom
Alone in the Classroom is really about the narrator, Anne, finding out about her family; the story centres on Anne relating stories about her aunt, Connie Flood. Much like a tree, Connie's story is only one branch but it seems to be the sturdiest and most twisting branch of the tree, at least for Anne.
Most of the book focuses on Connie, from her schoolteacher beginnings in rural Saskatchewan to her time at a newspaper in Ottawa back to schoolteaching in Maine. Also intertwined with the branch that is Connie's life are the two men that influence Connie's life the most: her principal, Ian "Parley" Burns and one of her students, Michael Graves. Both Parley and Michael play important roles in who Connie becomes and how she lives her life.
Also integral to the book are two tragic deaths of young school girls, one of which opens the book, and the reasons for these deaths that are only hinted at and alluded to, but never fully explained.
It is the non-resolution behind the deaths that left me feeling unfulfilled, but there is enough information presented that the reader can draw her own conclusions and feel satisfied in their accuracy. My problem is that I had an idea about one of them that I thought was pretty great - turns out I was either way off base or Hay didn't feel the need to clarify things for me. But this is not a bad thing, merely something I will continue to think about as I dwell on the characters that I feel I know so much about.
And that is also the beauty of Hay's writing, her ability to make me think and care about her characters. She also has a wonderful way with words when describing the outdoors and the wilds of Canada, which is evident both in Alone in the Classroom and Late Nights on Air. I still think about the canoe trip in Late Nights, three years after reading the book.
This book feels like Canadian Literature with a capital "L", something I haven't indulged in for far too long. After reading this book, I found my Toronto-dwelling self yearning for a cabin in the woods, a small lake and trees as far as the eye can see; thankful for the stability of my own relationship and that I'm spared the agonies of the heart experienced by Connie and Anne (and all the women in the book); and curious about my own family, wondering what stories might be hidden in my genealogy, what happiness and tragedy has shaped my own family.