By setting her debut novel Kintyre in rural Eastern Ontario at the turn of the 20th century, Beach writer Janet Dowler has crafted a work of fiction that should over time establish itself as part of the cannon of Canadian literature. Kintyre is also the name of the large stone farmhouse that acts as the heart of the novel. The house is a formidable structure whose gravity exerts a strong pull on the MacKay family for whom – and by whom – it was built. It is also the source of strange, inexplicable visions that both disturb and comfort the home’s occupants.
Narrated by three women of the MacKay clan, Kintyre is a family saga that spans four generations. The MacKays are a large extended family of tough farming pioneers who have carved a profitable farm out of the bush north of Kingston. The story begins on New Year’s Eve as the clan welcomes in the 20th century. They are happy and content in their new home – in a new land, facing a confident future with three strong young sons well-schooled in the Protestant work ethic. Fiona, the family matriarch and the book’s initial narrator, must deal with the ravages wrought by the First World War on her family. Sara, a strong-willed, compassionate young woman married to one of Fiona’s sons, takes over as the keeper of Kintyre (one soon learns that these women don’t so much ‘keep’ Kintyre as much as it ‘keeps’ them). Sara’s struggles to bring the far-flung family home again form the central narrative of the novel. Kathryn, the third narrator, acts as the final voice, and the fulfillment of Sara’s efforts.
Like her character Kathryn, Dowler found herself drawn to a painting of an old stone farmhouse nestled amid the rolling wintry countryside, the yellow glow of a lamp beckoning her to imagine the people who lived within its protective walls. Her voice is the measured grace of times gone by, beautiful in its descriptive powers, eloquent in its storytelling and wonderfully free of gritty realism. The reader is quickly reminded of Richard’s Wright’s novel Clara Callan. Even the mystery surrounding the odd appearances of strangely dressed people who disappear into a haze is handled in a way that avoids the wild drama of other blockbusters.
Janet Dowler has lived in the same house on Hazel Avenue for 41 years. Before taking time off to raise a family, she taught at both Gledhill and Adam Beck public schools. It was the serendipitous find of a painting of the farmhouse that inspired her to return to her first love: writing. Kintyre is her first novel. I hope there will be more to come.
Many of our readers might have heard that I am retiring from Beach Metro News. I have always been of the belief that when one door closes, another opens, especially when one has already made the decision to close one particular door. I consider it a moment of serendipity, then, that I chose this time to read a new book by Beach writer, medium, facilitator and healer Gena Macoretta.
Homegrown: The Journey Home is the distillation of 20 years of the author’s personal journey towards spirituality, and she writes to help others along their own path towards enlightenment. It is easy at first glance to pass this off as another example of New Age thought, but Macoretta makes it more personable and accessible by using examples from her own journey. And her enthusiasm is absolutely infectious, keeping you reading long after you’ve grasped her point. Hers is a positive message, and one that can be successful at various levels depending on the effort you, the seeker, are willing to put into it.
Macoretta’s journey grew out of long periods of depression and tribulation growing up at home. At times, she admits, she considered suicide. In her job at The Learning Annex she had opportunities to attend workshops in spirituality, and uncovered a deep interest in the subject. Now in her early fifties she admits to making headway in finding the peace she has been seeking. Along the way she has met and learned from several teachers including her personal “spiritual teacher” John, whom she quotes extensively throughout the book, Magic Cat, another spiritualist, Amiel, and the Springdale Spiritualist Church in Toronto. They offer a mix of spirituality, Christian teachings, common sense and personal responsibility, with an openness to wonder that allows one to rise above the usual cynicism and accept the possibility of it all happening. She acknowledges that whereas the old saying, “the Lord helps them who help themselves” is still very true when applied to seeking enlightenment, the process does require a stepping back from the chaos of daily life to find the quietude to let it in.
Homegrown has chapters in which Macoretta discusses her approach to fear and sadness. These are experiences that we all have throughout our lives. The trick, she says, is to accept the feelings and acknowledge them, but not let them overtake you in a way the feelings control you; don’t let sadness turn into depression. She advises that readers seek professional help if necessary, then look to other teachers, or healers to help understand the feeling and overcome it.
If you are devoted to seeking a higher plane of spirituality, see auras, become a medium and commune with those who have passed on, you will enjoy Homegrown as the story of Macoretta’s personal path to becoming just that. If you are someone like me who is turning a page in your own life story, facing new challenges or dealing with feelings that may have caused you to get stuck in the proverbial rut, you will enjoy Homegrown as an example of someone whose advice is to follow your passions and do what gives you joy, and has done just that.
Kintyre is available at Book City, 1950 Queen St. E., The Great Escape, 957 Kingston Rd., and at Amazon.com. Homegrown: The Journey Home, by Gena Macoretta, is also available at Book City, and online at trafford.com.