In The Small Things That End The World, published by Coteau Books, Jeanette Lynes takes us on a journey covering five decades and three generations. Bracketed by two natural disasters, Hurricane Hazel which devastated Toronto Canada in 1954, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans US, we are told the story of three women whose lives were shaped by two of them surviving the first of these.
While the butterfly who caused these hurricanes might have been on the other side of the world, the everyday little things are the chains of events which dictate what happens to these three generations of women. While they aren’t all related by blood, Sadie Wilder, and the mother and daughter pair of Faith Bannister and Amber Crouch, are tied together through happenstance and how fate spun the thread of their lives with the uncaring whimsy of a giant playing on a spinning wheel.
The small thing that started it all was Sadie becoming a replacement baby sitter when a friend from school came down with a case of the mumps on the night Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto. Unfortunately for her employer’s house was wonderfully located – riverfront property on the Humber River, which that night would flood its banks and wash away houses, streets and people. It didn’t matter how swanky and elite you were – a hurricane doesn’t recognize class barriers.
Of the two children Sadie was babysitting she was only able to save the infant Sadie as the combined weight of water and falling trees were almost too much for her to overcome. If it wasn’t for rescue workers out in a boat they would have all been swept away. With both her mother and the infant Faith’s parents killed in the storm she had no other recourse than to head to her maternal grandmother’s farm – a woman who didn’t even know she existed.
From this farm in Southern Ontario the story spreads out across North America and through the decades. When Faith leaves the farm after finding out Sadie isn’t her birth mother it begins an odyssey which takes her from Thunder Bay Ontario to Edmonton Alberta, and then down to New Orleans, until she’s led back to her adopted mother by Amber.
Lynes has carried off the remarkably difficult task of telling the story from all three points of view. First teenaged Sadie in the 1950s takes us through the hurricane and her trip to the farm. Then Faith, in the early 1970s describes discovering the truth of her past and running away to Thunder Bay where she becomes a stripper for one night and then moves further north for tree planting where she meets Amber’s father.
When Amber takes over the narration we jump to the 2000s. We find out Faith has been in Toronto going to nursing school and been offered a job in New Orleans. So the Mom-ster, as Amber calls her, and her daughter drive from Toronto to New Orleans. However, none of the women are ever too far below the surface in the story.
We return periodically to the farm so Sadie can tell us how she is doing and Faith will inform us of how life for is going in New Orleans while Amber gives us her version of life in the Big Easy. What’s wonderful is how each of them has their own unique voice. Lynes has created characters so distinct they are not only immediately identifiable by the way they speak, they almost literally leap off the page demanding our attention.
Just as impressive as her ability to bring characters to life is how she is able to immerse us into the environments the three women find themselves in. From the horror of the hurricane to the seedy and frightening strip bar where Faith first finds work, each locale is described in such a way to make them come to life. You can see each scenario unfold in your mind’s eye as if you were watching it on your own personal internal TV screen.
However, even more impressive, is how Lynes manages to take us into the hearts and minds of someone who has survived a disaster. We see how survivor’s guilt twists Sadie’s heart and how it effects her relationship with Faith.
While Faith had been barely a year old when her parents died, she still has nightmares of being sucked under water and is deathly afraid of going near even a muddy stream. So not only is she carrying her own baggage but she’s been laden down with the all her adopted mom’s fears as well. All of which she carries into her relationship with her daughter.
While Amber is affected by her mother’s behaviour, she has also inherited both women’s resilience. Not having to deal with the severe trauma either of the other women underwent she also has a view of the world less clouded by fear. This enables her to move out of the emotional inertia trapping Faith and Sadie.
While there are plenty of books which have dealt with individual’s trauma and even how one person’s trauma can impact on future generations, Lynes brings these realities home in a way few others have. For those wishing to learn something about what it really means to be a survivor this book is perfect. Even better, the book is so well written you won’t even notice you’re learning something until long after you’ve finished reading it.
The Small Things That End The World is a remarkable and beautiful book describing both the external and internal journey three women travel over the course of three generations. Lovingly, but without a trace of sentimentality, Lynes has created three women who deserve a place alongside other iconic female characters in modern literature.