Although the title character’s name, Goody Bledsoe, has a nice ring to it, her story is anything but plain good–it was excellent. The debut novel by maritime writer Heather Doherty defines a classic Canadian comingof- age story. So much so, that as I turned the page I often felt that it was the sort of book on a high school reading curriculum. Such a remark is not to be taken as an insult, Goody Bledsoe simply looks at traditional themes often found on young adult reading lists: loss of innocence (check), a journey towards self-identity (check) and humans versus nature (check).
Set in a rural farm in New Brunswick during the 30s and 40s, Goody’s story is told in a gritty, hard, tell-it-as-it-is voice that is somewhat reminiscent of Hagar Shipley from The Stone Angel. Not exactly likable, but immediately intimate and slightly secretive.
The story begins with an elderly Goody lying on her deathbed and remembering her pained childhood that is somewhat Jane Eyresque: a ten-year-old orphan is sent with her infant brother to be raised by her cold, overbearing aunt and merciless uncle. Her baby brother is immediately favoured and Goody must watch him grow up to be an unbearably abusive, spoiled character while struggling to find herself in a stifling and often repressive rural environment.
Goody is a character often robbed of happiness that in turn makes her an incredibly sympathetic character. However, Doherty does not milk the losses in Goody’s life in order to win readers over, in fact, she often mutes the tragedies. Goody’s reaction to the suicide of her older brother was simply, “I said nothing so fucking loudly my head hurt.”
Throughout the novel, Doherty often displays the ability as a writer to hold back the flowery and self-indulgent prose and just write. This works in her favour as Goody’s stark thoughts often make a powerful statement. Despite suffering heartbreak throughout the novel, Goody always bites back the bad with defying words, “Be damned if I do.” Doherty’s spare words and writing style unapologetically stare at you straight in the eye. As Goody would probably say, be damned if you don’t like this book. (Erin Kobayashi)
by Heather Doherty, $18.95, 158 pgs, Oberon Press, 205-145 Spruce Street, Ottawa, ON, K1R 6P1, oberonpress.ca