Tell by Frances Itani

This is a funny book. Well, not funny ha ha, but funny different. Several of us at book club didn't enjoy the first half but later found ourselves thinking what a good book it was. We talked about various aspects of the story but never came up with a reasonable answer as to why it took us so long to get into it. When I think back on the first half, I don't think I disliked it, but it didn't draw me in even though it's a good, solid story.

It begins with a prologue - then chapter one starts a year previous to that.  Prologues can be a little off putting at first because they don't relate to what's going on in the beginning of the story. I even tend to forget them once I get into the story. At the end of the novel, though, I find it satisfying to go back and reread them because of the clarity they bring.

There are two main story lines. One is about a returning WW1 soldier, Kenan, who is suffering from PTSD (they didn't call it that then) and his wife, Tress. Tress is trying to hold things together as her injured husband adjusts to life without the use of one arm and with considerable damage to his face. The other story line is about another couple, Maggie (Tress's aunt) and Am, whose marriage is slowly disintegrating in the silence which for years has surrounded a tragic loss.

The setting is a small town in Ontario, the prominent feature of which (for this story) is a skating rink built on the frozen bay. The main characters all spend time alone and with companions on the ice, which becomes a place of solace to many of them. It represents a sort of freedom from the lives in which they are trapped.

Having begun with a prologue, the book ends with a letter summing up the changes that have taken place in the year since the end of the story. It's both happy and sad, as life always is.

I love the title: "Tell". I think the author is telling us that talking would have made everything different. If Maggie and Am had shared their pain in words it might have kept them from growing apart and made it less likely that one of them would stray. For Kenan and Tress, telling is what makes it possible for them to accept the changes in their marriage and move forward.

I recommend this book for it's good story, well-constructed characters and enjoyable writing.


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