canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Shadow of Ashland
by Terence M. Green
A Forge Book, Paperback Edition, 2000

Reviewed by Michael Bryson

Originally published in 1996, Terrence M. Green's Shadow of Ashland was republished this year in paperback. And it's a good thing, too, since this slim novel is as timeless as any fiction can be. It's the kind of book so timeless it presents the reviewer with a problem - how to summarize the plot without giving away its most delightful details.

Let me just say this: there is time travel involved. If that's indeed what it is, for it may not be. It may be something else. The reader will have to decide.

The story begins in Toronto circa 1984, where the narrator, Leo, is waiting for his elderly mother to die. Before she passes away, however, she tells him (in what he imagines to be her delirium) that her brother and father had come to visit her in the hospital. After she passes away, letters from Leo's uncle, Jack, start arriving at his parents house. They are dated from the 1930s and posted from the mid-west USA.

Spurned into action by his mother's deathbed comment and the flow of 50-year-old letters from his supposedly dead uncle, Leo begins to investigate. Ultimately, he takes a vacation from his job at the Toronto Star and travels south to see what he can find out about his uncle's past and/or present.

Questions about the nature of time are prevalent, though Green does not revert to paraphrasing quantum physicists the way Margaret Atwood did in Cat's Eye. Instead, Green's tone and phrasing have more in common with W.P. Kinsella, particularly the short story "Shoeless Joe Jackson"; later a novel; and later the movie "Field of Dreams."

Like Kinsella, Green might be accused of leaning a little towards the sentimental side of life. There is a small town hominess to the characters, and Leo, the narrator, is at times almost incredulously naive. At times he is confronted with awesome feats of unreality, and he remains unastonished. This may, however, be part of the gift of the book. Green takes his readers to kingdoms full of magic, kingdoms which look - and feel - remarkably familiar.

Northrop Frye reminded us to think of all literature as existing in the same moment. Literature itself reminds us that the mysteries of life remain constant from age to age.

An TDR interview with Terence M. Green is included in the features section.







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