Rebekkah Adams’ debut novel Front Porch Mannequins centers on the bleak, bruised lives of Nan, Alice and Lily, three women living in small town Ontario. The novel begins promisingly when Nan hatches a plan to improve Lily’s marriage to her abusive husband by mowing him down with a car. The scene is grotesquely brilliant and, perhaps more impressive, utterly realistic — a testament both to Adams’ skillful world-building and her mastery of her characters. At the movies we’d call this kind of thing the inciting incident — an event of such gravitas that it can’t help but bring about epic narrative change. Instead of propelling the narrative forward, however, Nan’s plan ends with a disappointing fizzle. Too often Adams takes extended dips into the uniformly troubled pasts of her characters: lengthy interludes that leave their present incarnations stuck, like Delane the mannequin, in the purgatory of Alice’s front porch. I kept waiting for something to jolt the trio out of their communal stupor until finally, in the last 30 pages or so, the discovery of a severed hand precipitates the solving of a mystery I didn’t even know existed.
A capable writer with an eye for finding hope in the places we least expect, Adams handles the novel’s final pages effectively, serving up a credible, redemptive ending with grace and panache. Expanded, these moments would make for even finer narrative fodder. As it stands, they are too little, too late, making Front Porch Mannequins a commendable, though flawed, debut. (Andrew MacDonald)
by Rebekkah Adams, $16.95 176 pgs, Signature Editions PO Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg MB, R3M 3S7, signature-editions.com