The Bone Mother
David Demchuk, 228 pgs, ChiZine Press, chizinepub.com, $19.99
The last of Eastern Europe’s mythical creatures have fled to three neighbouring villages on the Ukrainian and Romanian border. Their final days — as they are hunted down by the brutal and mysterious Night Police — are chronicled in David Demchuk’s chilling, Giller Prize-nominated novel The Bone Mother. In each chapter, a creature tells the story of their life, and under Demchuk’s careful construction, they add up to a haunting tale about the effects of war and cultural devastation.
In Nicolai’s chapter, he recounts his mother’s story of how she nursed an injured wolf back to health, and describes how “when my mother died many years later, I knelt beside her bed and cried, and the wolves in the woods, they cried along with me.” Demchuk’s elegant writing is piercing, and he expertly imbues his horror novel with moments of melancholy. Four chapters in the novel take place in contemporary North America and focus on the descendants of the mythical creatures. In Lena’s chapter, she struggles with a human-devouring monster imprisoned in her back, passed down to her by her mother. Her grandmother tells her, “no matter how far or how fast we run, our ghosts and demons run with us, and are always close at hand.” Lena’s story is one of the standouts in the novel, a sharp metaphor for intergenerational trauma.
The Bone Mother is a harrowing novel that ends with many unanswered questions surrounding the Night Police, mirroring the lack of closure that we face with any kind of tragedy. Ultimately, these stories become a meditation on memory and storytelling. They exemplify how stories can provide a sense of solace and meaning that allows one to grapple with the otherwise inexplicable horrors of war. (Alexander De Pompa)