Published 17th October 2017
This glorious little book is the retelling of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest but you needn’t have read the play to understand the book or be touched by its beauty.
Set in the mythical Belle Coeur County up alongside the Canadian border, independent orphan Rose becomes a pregnant teen and gives birth to the gargantuan Poe. Born eighteen pounds, he has a hump on his back, a port wine birthmark the shape of Africa on his face; he has six fingers and six toes and is meek and gentle as a lamb. Rose fights the establishment to keep her child and settles into life as a single parent with no support from her anyone. Suddenly the scene shifts and we discover Poe as a grown man, still soft and simple, and Rose making their way through life the best they can doing menial and tough jobs for little to no money because ‘ they don’t know no better’ and Rose making goats cheese from their own flock of goats. We discover that they have few close friends but live happily on the edges of the town and find peace and happiness with each other.
Poe does have a dear friend in the form of Miranda, who is younger than he is, but devoted to him, baking treats and teaching him how to divide them up during his work day and spending time with him doing simple things such as fishing. Poe adores Miranda, but also sees her as a sexual being, although he would never act upon his desires. Or would he? Seen one day carrying an unconscious Miranda out of the forest beaten and obviously sexually assaulted, naturally suspicion falls on Poe, who is unable to defend himself and unhelpfully Miranda has no recollection of the attack. A trial takes place and some of the townsfolk are unhappy with the outcome and take matters into their own hands. Misery is enacted upon Rose and Poe who are helpless against the onslaught. But is the attack warranted? Did Poe actually do the unthinkable?
Every page of this novel is filled with glorious, simple descriptions such as a buttermilk moon or a charcoal ribbon of cloud. The characters are easy to identify with. Poe, despite appearances otherwise, is a kind child-man who only ever wants to be loved and useful. Rose is strong and you can’t help but feel like life owes her a kindly turn or two. When things start to go wrong for Poe, you instantly feel defensive over him, knowing him to be a compliant soul.
The story has the ability to whisk you away to a time and place that you can’t really put a handle on and yet is timeless in its truth. Todd weaves a kind of magic with his prose, perhaps unfairly unexpected when you consider that he is a sports commentator based in Montreal. The writing doesn’t flinch away from the brutal side of situations and yet is able to create a mist of enchantment around it at the same time. Themes of love, acceptance and the way society is quick to judge the ones who differentiate from the norm are explored. At times Rose and Poe reads as if a fairy tale and yet is rooted soundly in reality. This is a beautiful, tragic, powerful and rich story and well worth the read.