Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reader's Diary #1015- Donna Morrissey: Kit's Law

I've mostly lost my Newfoundland accent and vocabulary since I moved away more than a decade ago, though every now and again something will surface that I didn't even know was a Newfoundlandism. It's just in very recent years, for example, that I realized not everyone called the steps and landing up to a door of a house a bridge. I've lost so much of the Newfoundland dialect over the years that I decided to at least keep that one.

In Kit's Law, Donna Morrissey does an incredibly authentic job with the language. I nearly got homesick while reading it and had so many flashbacks. One that jumped out at me as one of the idioms that I've long since lost is the use of wouldn't in place of wasn't, as in "They wouldn't coming." And it wasn't just the grammar, it was also some of the vocabulary. At one point, Morrissey mentions "vamps," which, as I Newfoundlander I recognized immediately as wool socks, though I know most non-Newfoundlanders wouldn't get it at all. (I know this because when my wife Debbie, who's from Ontario, first came to meet my parents it was in the winter and we were planning to go tobogganing. When she turned down the vamps my mother had offered her earlier and then complained of cold feet later, I had to ask why. Long story short, she thought "vamps" were some sort of tawdry lingerie and felt weird being offered it from my mother.) In Kit's Law, I loved how unapologetic Morrissey handled the language. She didn't explain the grammatical choices that I'm sure some non-Newfoundland readers must have at first thought were mistakes, she offered no glossary for unfamiliar vocabulary at the end, and in my opinion the book was all the better for it. I've read books from other cultures before, and I don't think I'm unique in saying that I want writing that feels authentic. And besides, I don't think any of it would prevent a reader from understanding the plot.

Kit's Law is largely a character-driven book focused on the titular Kit, a girl born to her mentally handicapped mother Josie and fathered by any one of those locals who had been cruel enough to take advantage of Josie's condition. Usually when I say a book is character-driven I also go on to say that it's a bit on the boring side. But Kit's Law has loads of drama. However, it's Kit that I suspect will stick with most readers, including me, long after the book has been read. (I should note that the other characters are also superbly crafted and rich.)

Kit's Law does have its fair share of tragic moments, and therefore, along with the character focus and well-defined rural setting, it's susceptible to the charge of being yet another example of geography-heavy, dreary CanLit. However, I think there's just enough humour and drama thrown into the mix that it rises above the stereotype. Great writing.


Loni said...

I've been wanting to read more Morrissey since Livvy Higgs. I've heard a lot of good things about Kit's Law and when I finally get to reading more of her work, I think I'll start here.

I also like that she uses an authentic voice... and if I don't understand something, I'll ask you :)

John Mutford said...

Loni: I've been wanting to read anything by Morrissey for a while but never made the time for some reason. Now that I enjoyed this one so much, I'll definitely be back for more.