'First novel a triumph for Richards'
THE LAVENDER CHILD | SASKATOON STARPHOENIX
The thought of two men loving Rachel at the same time was so unbelievable, she laughed at the idea. When she was growing up in small town Saskatchewan, there were few choices and little time to choose. You married a man, learned to love him, and found happiness. In that order.
It didn't quite work out that way for her daughter Louise. She fell in love, found happiness, then married Gavin Protheroe. Now in her late 30s she's struggling to hold on to her youth, which was lost somewhere between six children and a responsible lifestyle.
And so different were Rachel's courting days from those of her eldest granddaughter Celia, who puts her acting career before marriage, refuses to label an evening out with a guy a "date," and contemplates becoming a single mom on day – by choice.
Through the minds of three generations, we meet a group of unique and captivating personalities who put their own bona fide spin on the definition of "family."
The Lavender Child is a year in the life of Protheroes, and the first year of baby Dion's life. Brain-damaged at birth, Dion's wit is as pale as the color of lavender, yet his sweetness and innocence as alluring as its scent. Although he doesn't develop as quickly as other babies do, he has the special power to enchant his parents, five sisters and grandparents, After his birht, Rachel is able to renew her role as a mother to Lousise, who comes to terms with approaching middle age. Gavin, in his quest for his long-lost mother, finds his role as a son, and Dion's sisters learn that happiness exists in tier own household.
In her first novel, Saskatchewan writer Harriet Richards sails, smoothly along many streams of consciousness, taking you deep inside her characters' minds. We decode the intricacies of each personality – their fears, desires, weaknesses, regrets – by following the dreamy flow of their thoughts.
Stream of consciousness is not an easy technique, but Richards excels at it. Readers will be amazed at her ability to convey the discomfort of an aging grandmother as convincingly as she depicts the wonder and excitement of a developmentally-delayed nine-moth-old boy discovering the world.
Her skill is most impressive in one passage that takes you inside Dion's thoughts. After struggling with a blanket in his crib, he becomes stuck in an uncomfortable position and cries for help. Big sister Gale comes to the rescue. He look sup at her face, with its "chatty" freckles he loves dearly. "He was happy, but it took time for his body to know that – his body still made mad noises."
Dreams also play an important role in the novel, and not just those of the REM variety. Richards concentrates on the roles dreams play in our conscious lives as well as in our sleep. Louise's father Harold lives in a dreamworld as the effects of Alzheimer's take hold of his mind. Her neighbor, Myrtle Murray, believes in her own clairvoyance and depends on dreams for insight. And during the excruciating trauma of childbirth, Louise floats into an out-of-body experience, before she realizes that annoying, relentless screaming voice is her own.
It was a dream which launched Richards' writing career several years ago. She originally worked as a visual artist (one of her early paintings appears on the book's cover). After a dry spell, she wrote a short story based on a recurrent dream that "refused to translate into a painting." Since then, her work has appeared in such arts publications as the Antigonish Review and Planet: The Welsh Internationalist.
Richards was born in Toronto, one of seven children. She moved to Saskatoon in 1960 and now lives just west of the cit in Asquith with her husband and four children.
Proud Prairie dwellers will appreciate numerous references to the province's natural beauty. Richards' narrative shows you combines in late September, the flocks of birds in spring sunsets and Saskatchewan winters "that begin in September and last until April" (okay, not this winter).
The Lavender Child is tender, confidant and clever. As Richards' first novel, it is a triumph.
— Sue Bachner
The Lavender Child | January 10, 1998