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Books

Peripheral vision

Protagonist's slow road to recovery from brain injury takes a dark path

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/3/2016 (454 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With his sophomore novel, Winnipeg-born and educated author Liam Durcan shows his mastery of metaphor. He plays with elements of light, angles and reflection as his protagonist, a former architect, attempts to reconstruct the fragments of his life following a devastating brain injury.

The Measure of Darkness follows the recovery of Martin Fallon, who has recently awakened from a coma, the result of a collision between a snowplow and his car. He suffers from a condition called spatial neglect syndrome, in which he is unable to process the existence of the left side of his body or anything in that periphery.

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Redstone photography</p><p>In addition to being an author, Winnipeg-born Liam Durcan has been a neurologist in Montreal for 20 years.</p>

Redstone photography

In addition to being an author, Winnipeg-born Liam Durcan has been a neurologist in Montreal for 20 years.

In the beginning, Martin can barely piece together a face, and only through great concentration is able to build it up and out from the curve of a nostril before losing it all with a shift in focus or slight movement. He has no memory of events leading up to the accident.

Under the care of his previously estranged brother, he leaves the rehabilitation facility where he’s spent three largely disjointed months and embarks on a journey to take back his life.

As a neurologist practising in Montreal for more than 20 years, Durcan is well-qualified to write about brain injury. He’s an accomplished writer, author of the short-story collection A Short Journey by Car, which was listed by the Globe & Mail as one of its top 100 in 2004, and Garcia’s Heart, which won the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel and was long-listed for the 2009 Dublin IMPAC prize.

Durcan ekes out the details of his protagonist’s life and dysfunction in small measures, at pace with his healing. It is soon blindingly apparent, however, that Martin’s darkness is more than physical.

The sympathy and curiosity we feel for this man in the beginning is dampened; we come to understand that he is responsible for his own miserable circumstance. Through arrogance and selfish choices, he has pushed away his two daughters, two ex-wives, his brother, mother and father.

And yet, we’re pulled along by intricate design — the promise of an awakening of another kind.

There is a profound moment when Martin is standing on the deck of his lake house, suddenly struck by the sliver of a glimpse — a hint of astounding beauty. It is, however, just beyond the periphery of his vision. Desperate to catch full sight of it, he moves his face left and right to fully see, completely unaware he’s looking at a reflection of the lake in his window, and that his brother is on the other side, watching him. We wonder if this might be the heart of the story we’ve been waiting for: connection, and healing.

Though Martin’s condition adds a unique perspective and it is fascinating to see the blanks of his life fill in, The Measure of Darkness is more about reflection than healing. It begins a bright and shining thing, but by mid-point the pace slows and the story ceases to build.

Martin’s world continues to expand, however, as he meanders into neglected spaces — physically and metaphorically — and the reader is left with an evocative reminder that we are each the architects of our own lives.

Anita Daher is a Winnipeg author and actor.

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