In all our years together, my book club has never been joined by the author of our chosen book. This month, as we met to discuss The Town That Drowned, we were fortunate to have the novel’s author, Riel Nason, with us. Riel and one of the members of my book club have known each other since university, so it made sense for Chrissy to choose this book and to invite Riel to join us while we discussed it.
The Town That Drowned is Riel’s first novel, but she has honed her skills writing a regular column on antiques and collectibles for the Telegraph Journal, is the author of a collection of short stories, some of which have been published, and blogs about quilting here. For the women who gathered for a discussion of the book, it was a real treat to get the inside scoop on the book’s development.
Narrated by 14-year-old Ruby, The Town That Drowned tells the story of what happens to a town when the government decides to build a dam. The narrative of the story is actually based on a true event, as Riel explained at our meeting and on her blog:
“In the late 1960s, before my friends and I were born, the area had been flooded when the Mactaquac Dam was built about 15 miles downstream. As a kid, I thought it was all pretty neat information. Lots of great trivia. But, now if we fast forward to just a few years ago when I was possessed with the idea that I-Must-Write-A-Novel, I immediately knew that the flooding would be the background event.”
The Town That Drowned is a quiet story. Riel might have even admitted that nothing much happens, but I would disagree. I think Riel actually did a very nice job of capturing rural New Brunswick during the 1960s. My dad grew up just a few clicks further up the river from Riel’s fictional Haventon, in a small town called Perth-Andover and I spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, so I am intimately familiar with towns like that. You know the kind: everyone knows everyone, meaning everyone knows your business and there’s no escape from the town bullies. Ruby observes her neighbours and the events that transpire over the course of a couple of years through remarkably mature eyes.
My favourite character in the novel is Ruby’s younger brother, Percy. Although it’s never overtly stated, Percy has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. Every time he opens his mouth, he is a delight.
“Our mother says we should give you the message of her love,” he says to Mr. Cole – a much loved neighbour – on the occasion of a picnic he and Ruby share with him.
Percy thrives on structure and order and routine and the thought that his house might be moved is kept a secret from him for as long as possible. Ruby adores him and is embarrassed by him in equal measure. I just adored him.
The Town That Drowned will have special meaning to those readers familiar with the St. John River Valley and those who remember the Mactaquac Dam being built. But even if you aren’t from around here, the story offers up plenty of treasures: first love, the importance of family, and what it means to have a place to call home.