Still, what kind of mother walks away from her only child? Fathers, yes – they have more latitude in the parenting department. But mothers? They’re supposed to stay.
At its root this is a story about mothers and daughters. But there is so much more swirling around in these pages: angst, regret, longing that these pages seem to stick on my tongue and brain as I read. Caroline writes about family secrets, trust, love and the identity of a mother in the world. It is a story told by three different characters: Danah, her mother Jane Lily, and her mother Edith. It flicks between each character’s past and present smoothly. How well do we know each other, even our own family members? And can we ever right past mistakes? Dana, Jane Lily and Edith each ask these questions. The answers they uncover are at the heart of the novel.
Danah, a second year PhD student is the main character. Her life was upended when she was a child and her mother walked away from the family. It was upended again, 18 years later when she finds a letter in her grandmother’s house that she believes is from her long lost mother. Danah is reserved and closed off. Studiously smart she’s afraid of people leaving her like her mother did. As a sociology student she’s able to understand her patterns of behaviour, but watching her wrestle with a cold and seemingly unfeeling grandmother and the weight of trying to achieve perfection to keep people happy with her is almost suffocating in the book for the reader. Danah springs from the page and keeps the story moving. Her interactions and remembered past complement and criss cross with Edith and Jane Lily. Will Danah find resolution from her past? Will it help her build her own future? She’s at a precipice in her life brought on by a kitchen fire and envelope with a familiar name on it.
I love Carolyn’s writing. Her characters are raw and real, and while their lives aren’t always huge, we feel their emotions so strongly. Her writing reminds me of another favourite Canadian voice of mine, Jane Urquhart. Like Urquhart, Carolyn tells quiet stories about ordinary people. And like true life, her endings don’t always wrap up in a neat little bow. Instead, they can sometimes be left tangled, ready for another generation to unwrap.
Sins of the Daughter is the perfect fall book to read with a big cup of tea on a weekend afternoon.
Thank you Cormorant Books for the ARC in return for an honest review.