eBook, 352 pages
The New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Crow Lake and The Other Side of the Bridge returns with a brilliantly layered novel about self-sacrifice, family relationships, and the weight of our responsibility to those we love.
Twenty-one-year-old Megan Cartwright has never been outside Struan, Ontario, a small town of deep woods and forbidding winters. The second oldest in a house with seven brothers, Megan is the caregiver, housekeeper, and linchpin of the family, but the day comes when she decides it’s time she had a life of her own. Leaving everything behind, Megan sets out for London.
In the wake of her absence, her family begins to unravel. Megan’s parents and brothers withdraw from one another, leading emotionally isolated lives while still under the same roof. Her oldest brother, Tom, reeling from the death of his best friend, rejects a promising future to move back home. Emily, her mother, rarely leaves the room where she dreamily dotes on her newborn son, while Megan’s four-year-old brother, Adam, is desperate for warmth and attention. And as time passes, Megan’s father, Edward, stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that his household is coming undone. Torn between her independence and family ties, Megan must make an impossible choice.
Nuanced, compelling, and searingly honest, Road Ends illuminates how we each make peace with the demands of love. Mary Lawson delivers compassion and heartbreak in equal measure in her most stunning novel to date.
Road Ends by Mary Lawson is a very highly recommended character study of three members of the Cartwright family, a family which is slowly, tragically falling apart.
Set in Straun, Ontario, and spanning 1966-1969, the large Cartwright family is heading for a breaking point. Lawson focuses her attention on three members of the family: Edward, Megan, and Tom.
Megan has been the caregiver, housekeeper, disciplinarian, and, really, the mother to all of her brothers for years. Her mother only wants to love and care for the babies but leaves the raising of her offspring to Meg, the second oldest and only daughter. Everyone has taken Meg for granted. Now 21 year old, Meg wants to experience life on her own and sets out to live with a friend in London. She has heard the doctor tell her mother and father no more children and she feels this is her chance to live her own life. Before she left, Meg "had started to wonder if her mother was going senile." She is sure that at 45, she can't be but was instead simply not listening to what people are telling her.
Tom, Meg's oldest brother is in the midst of a serious depression since the suicide of his life-long friend, Robert. Tom has a degree in aeronautical engineering, but he's staying in the family home in Straun, Ontario, driving a snow plow, or a lumber truck, just biding his time, reading newspapers, eating lunch at the diner, and becoming more and more closed and emotionally distant.
The father, Edward, is the manager of the local bank but he is purposefully and completely distant and isolated from his family. He eats his meals out, he stays late at the bank, he visits the library, and when home, he goes into his study and shuts the door, avoiding any responsibility or contact with his family. He never wanted the children and he expects his wife to raise them. Alternately, he is afraid if he does discipline his sons, he will become abusive like his father. He turns a blind eye to the problems around him and all the indications that something isn't quite right with Emily, his wife. Edward alternately dreams of visiting great cities and seeing treasured art work, while also reading what is left of the many years of his mother's diaries and trying to come to terms with his childhood.
Meg's arrival in England is fraught with challenges and disappointments at the beginning, but she overcomes these hurdles and with the help of a caring supervisor, manages to land a position that uses her skills at organizing and cleaning. Meg does miss her youngest brother, Adam. She sends him Matchbox cars and is hopeful that Tom will look out for him.
Back in Canada, out of his haze of depression, Tom notices that his younger brother, Adam, smells bad... and apparently has been left to go hungry with no one around to make sure he gets meals, baths, or clean clothes. His mother has had yet another baby and she is holed up in her room, with the baby, ignoring everything around her. His father is as mentally absent as Emily; both are living in their own world. Meg's absence has propelled the inevitable falling apart of the family since she was the caregiver who kept things going and organized.
This is an incredibly well written novel that is a complex character study over a few years of time in the lives of these members of the Cartwright family. While there won't be a lot of action or complex twists and turns, this is the kind of novel that those who love character studies will relish. It also has a distinctive Canadian feel to it. You sense the great burden of snow and more snow, with one blizzard following on the heels of the previous one. It reminded me of the novels of David Adams Richards, with the melancholy that seems to pervade everything. At the end, Lawson does give us a glimmer of hope, even amidst the increasing disappointments, and leaves the reader anticipating that beyond the story there is a hopeful future. It reminds me that even when bad things happen to people, ultimately good can come out of the struggles - that there is a reason for everything.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.