Edmonton author Kevin Holowack’s debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, displays mature literary skill that is surprising in a young writer.

Edmonton author Kevin Holowack’s debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, displays mature literary skill that is surprising in a young writer.

He adeptly handles the story of a family, in which all members are somewhat eccentric, taking place during the 1960s and ’70s.

Poet and university professor Allen Windsor and his introverted wife Ruth, a self-taught painter, are struck by lightning, yet survive only to have another brush with death soon after when Ruth rams their car into the brick wall of a hotel. Al is hurled through the windshield, landing on a couch; Ruth sustains only a mild concussion. Neither accident affects her pregnancy. Al is left with a blotch on his chest which Ruth believes signifies his resurrection.

After their daughter Gayle is born, Al accepts a teaching job in Edmonton, leaving his family in Victoria, B.C. When he returns at Thanksgiving, he decides to buy a horse and later invites the babysitter and pizza delivery man to join them for dinner. Ruth is concerned over his erratic behaviour and asks why he keeps leaving her and their baby.

He answers, "Since that time on the cliff, I’ve been unable to shake the reality that life is precarious. Time is the most precious resource, and since then — since then, the work I do is this: I’m making a monument to you in my soul. I don’t mean that figuratively. I’ve been working on something lately — something that eats at me night and day. It’s a calling. A vocation — Do you know the word? — I’m composing now what I believe is my life’s masterpiece."

Later that year he rides his horse from Vancouver Island to Salmon Arm, B.C., gaining some local notoriety.

Even though he still spends most of the year in Edmonton, he and Ruth pack up and move to a house just outside Salmon Arm. Gayle is fascinated by her father, who encourages her to sing and learn to play the piano. She knows that the time they spend together is limited and precious as he returns to his family each summer and is home for the birth of a second daughter, Ami.

After Gayle graduates from high school, she becomes more isolated with only her mother, sister and the three dairy cows she tends for company. She and Ruth learn that Al has disappeared from his home in Edmonton after being placed on medical leave from the university and ordered to attend psychiatric counselling.

When Gayle spots a light in the barn one night, she discovers a young man lying unconscious in the hay. She persuades Ruth to let the man, Lewis, stay if he helps with farm chores. He’s hitchhiked from Vancouver and says he’s on his way to Edmonton, then to Nova Scotia.

Gayle wants to escape her role as the sensible person who keeps the household together, and to see something of the world, so she follows Lewis to Edmonton.

Holowack’s characterization of Ruth as a middle-aged artist who is befuddled by her husband’s disappearance is credible. Despite all of his shortcomings, Ruth still loves and misses Al, remembering the highlights of their lives together. Holowack allows Ruth to achieve some success and recognition for her artistic work. She also finds the help she needs to raise her younger daughter.

However, Gayle seems to drift along in her impoverished life with Lewis. Perhaps she has inherited some of her father’s inability to fully recognize and come to grips with reality.

She is visited by a large black bird a few times throughout the book, signalling that her life has reached a turning point.

In creating three main characters who are all quirky in different ways, Holowack challenged himself to come up with a compelling narrative. Switching back and forth in time from chapter to chapter helps to keep the plot moving.

Overall, Light on a Part of the Field is a successful debut novel, hopefully the first of many to be written by this young author.

Andrea Geary is a freelance writer.

Andrea Geary

Andrea Geary
St. Vital community correspondent

Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital and was once the community journalist for The Headliner.

   Read full biography