canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999



Seasoning Fever
by Susan Kerslake
The Porcupineís Quill, 2002

Reviewed by Teri Marcotte

The expression of both feeling and thought in Susan Kerslakeís Seasoning Fever, her first novel in twelve years, is both sumptuous and tactile. There isnít a huge pushing and shoving to get through this book in a mad rush to seek the climax, Seasoning Fever is anticlimactic. It is the story of youth experiencing their love for each other, for growth, both personal and independent, on the prairies as they settle into a plethora of unknowns. Chief among them, the complexities of the man/woman relationship and how utterly un-cut and dried it truly is.

Matthew and Hannah, a newly married teenage couple, set upon their journey to become settlers, to build their home and share their lives with each other. To say that that they are starry eyed is an injustice to their character. Hannah is naÔve but dedicated to Matthew, whom she loves with a fierce passion, while he, consumed by his own love for his wife, sees only the joy and prosperity, not of grandiose proportions, but of working and owning the land together.

They needed each other desperately. Within sight, smell, touch, across the small restaurant table, nudging the sunlight aside, their sharp elbows jutting out to the edge, they held onto the lifeline in each otherís eyes.

Matthew is restless and eager to carve his place in the world and wills Hannah to join him, to strike out on their own and to shed the ill fitting skin of not belonging, leaving that fabric in their wake. Newness and adventure are tantalizing carrots dangling just slightly above their outstretched hands as they begin their journey.

Seasoning Fever touches on the hardships of prairie living, the loneliness, the fears, and the losses, both personal and emotional. There are tumbles provided by the traps of human failings. But like the earth that must be tilled, moulded and scoured, so must the souls of Matthew and Hannah.

It took more than an acre of sod and a week of dry weather to build the walls eight feet high, and above that the gable peaks.

When this small fortress, twelve by twenty-two, was complete, he drove the horses to a grove of cottonwoods to cut roof poles and corner pins.

Hannah stomped the dirt flat into a floor while he was gone. All the while she planned where she would put things. The sun was hotter now. Using a branch she brushed back and forth. She let her thoughts go to the gap where the door was going to be, and they peered out like mice. There was nothing out there. Cold shimmered against the sky. The absence was a great wall without seams. She saw no way through.

Ms. Kerslakeís approach to Seasoning Fever is definitively poetic. Ms. Kerslake has chosen to use the omniscient narrator, a choice I would not recommend given the quantity of poetry married with prose. As I read, I maintained a sense of being enveloped in gossamer, soft and sheathing, blurring the focus of actuality over the hard lines of reality. While this ordinarily conjures up a feeling of pleasant mystique, I found it to be rather annoying. So much so, youíre whirled about from character to character at dizzying speeds. For me, the journey was a lot like a slow tramp through a maze filled with pudding, shrouded in fog. There is an enormous amount of beauty in Seasoning Fever. Ms. Kerslake has abundant talent. I would sooner see the poem separated from the prose. It alleviates the strain of trying to make conclusions from the partial facts that Seasoning Fever leaves dangling just overhead, suspended by invisible wires.

Susan Kerslakeís previous books are Middlewatch, Penumbra, Blind Date and Book Of Fears, which was short-listed for the Governor Generalís Award.

Teri Marcotte is a writer whose recreational outlets include tramping through pudding clogged mazes shrouded in the fog. Her works can be viewed online at http://writers-shrine.ws/ezine/ezvlil.html 

 

 

 

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