When Alice Lay Down With Peter
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When Alice Lay Down with Peter is a sweeping, magical novel that follows four generations of the McCormack family through more than a century of Canadian history, as it unfolds on the flood plains of southern Manitoba. The story of Alice and Peter McCormack and their progeny is a glorious, witty, and intimate epic that truly reminds us that life stories not only include the details of the past, but also expand into the present and future, encompassing much more than the statistics of life and death would seem to admit. Narrated by Blondie McCormack--Alice and Peter’s daughter, who has just died at the age of 109--When Alice Lay Down with Peter is a novel that rejoices in the inevitability of change, and in the hauntings that reward our choosing to remember our own history.
Just as When Alice Lay Down with Peter is a story of a family, it is a story of a particular place over time. Margaret Sweatman’s characters are never separate from the story of the land itself, or from the natural and political events that work away at its edges. The history of the McCormacks is a history of life on the land: of bountiful crops and devastating floods, the renewal of spring and the death that marks each fall. It is in the connection between the place and its inhabitants that we find the deceptively simple meaning of “home.” And it is to this conjoining of histories that Sweatman brings the lightning spark of her imagination, and out of which this wonderful novel has been born.
rain falling on one’s own salt. Skin meets skin or wood or hide or cotton, so to move is to evaporate. Sitting on a wooden chair in the rainy breeze, golden skin a salt lick. Badly wanting Eli. Who was not present at my climatic annunciation, did not witness my skin, my flesh-petalled hue, or taste me. He was near, Eli, but he was not present. I could hear Eli’s voice, Adeimantus to Plato, disembodied, boyish. Peter’s catechisms, my father’s treachery. Training Eli in the impossible theories of
the mad hearts and soft hands. Helen learned that war is inside people and we must go to the lap of the strongest man with the quietest body, and thus, at the centre of the storm, we will be safe. There was a marvellous bird at Mr. Cantor’s store. Two feet high and bright blue, with a beak the colour of raspberries. With its dragon’s claws, it gripped the bars of its cage and rocked back and forth. Helen thought it was an angel from the wilds of heaven. The bird spoke a language so strange that
In various pockets around the world, there will always be debutantes and their boys in evening dress. There are always Titanics, with lovely people dancing over treacherous seas. Our thirst for glamour remains. It is the innocence that we must, at this juncture in our story, pronounce extinct. Three men and one boy from Winnipeg died when the Titanic went down, which tells us more about the bold aspirations of this town in those days than would any figures for grain sales. The Chicago of the
been walking much of the night, travelling like a beetle over a piece of amber. It was like that in her quitting phase, moving towards the border between darkness and light. My mother had always enjoyed the arbitrary nature of her own opinions. Whatever role she played, she played with gusto and more; she loved the excess of her own characterizations. She was happiest teaching at the school by the CPR station, where the kids understood perfectly that their teacher was a ham. Humming a fugue
romantic. We did get let out for a short walk in the late afternoon, but I was somewhat taken aback to see that the place was mostly inhabited by Indians. In some ways, Big Bear never did get out of jail. It was actually very depressing. I sat with my daughter. Helen looked flushed, excited. “What’s got you stirred up?” I asked her. Just then, she stiffened like a greyhound, listening to a dull vibration through the stone floor. The sound of marching grew louder. In our corridor, an overhead