Two from Gooselane Editions: ‘The Gunsmith’s Daughter’ and ‘This Is the House That Luke Built’

The Gunsmith’s Daughter by Margaret Sweatman

It’s 1971 and Lilac Welsh is 18-years-old. She lives in an isolated location near Winnipeg, Manitoba with her parents. Her father–Kal–who was a professor of psychology, was severely injured in Vietnam in 1961, after which he moved his family to this isolated location and became very successful creating fire arms. His newest invention has caused some conflict within his little family.

War meant that her father was gone for a whole year and returned bust up, in a bad mood, sitting around in his underwear, grunting while he lifted little sandbags on his ankles. War was the stink of Absorbine Jr., the stink of humiliation and menthol and camphor, which smells like mothballs. She watched the small convulsions in her father’s throat when he swallowed his wine.

At the core of this book is Lilac’s relationship with her father and her journey towards independence. Lilac is motivated by various factors in the book, but more than anything she wants to prove to her father that she can be successful on her own; that she doesn’t need the nest egg that he has set up for her. So when she gets it in her head that she should be one of the women she’s read about who have gone to Vietnam to document the on-going conditions there, she is determined to go.

Lilac’s time in Vietnam is compelling. She meets new people who take an interest in her career and safety. (Refreshingly platonic relationships.) And she travels around Vietnam to get her stories, giving us a few snapshots of events from the war.

Claire said, “Take pictures. Send the pictures to Trudeau and tell him he’s a horse’s ass. Write this down. Tell him he’s the devil and a hypocrite. Tell him–Oh Christ, here.” And she swiped Lilac’s notebook and pen from her hands and wrote with such vigour she tore the paper: “Canada is the butcher’s helper.”

When Kal comes to Vietnam, Lilac assumes he has come to bring her home, but he is more interested in demonstrating his new gun – often at the expense of everyone’s safety. Lilac sees her father from a new lens: his self-absorption and manipulative strategies. Even as she sees what he is doing, she is unable to resist him.

Her eyes hurt from sleeplessness. If only she could see something familiar, Jack Pine leaning crookedly from pink granite, whitecaps on the lake. If only, just for a moment, she wasn’t in Vietnam, if only for a minute she could be at Rough Rock and breathe that sweet forest air, she would remember who she was.

Further Reading:

The Miramichi Reader/Atlantic Books Today: “The Gunsmith’s Daughter, possessing the forward thrust of a whodunit, makes for compulsive reading and is clearly the work of a seasoned writer who knows what she’s doing every step of the way.

The Winnipeg Free Press:Once The Gunsmith’s Daughter shifts to the heat of Saigon, where Lilac is more a bewildered observer than an actor, the story becomes a page turner. Sweatman has done her research on this period of the Viet Cong’s advance south, and she has created some memorable scenes and characters.

This Is the House That Luke Built by Violet Browne

What would your life be like if you lost the love of your life early on, the new baby never even knowing her father? You’re left with, not only your overwhelming grief, but also the responsibilities of everyday life with three children and an unfinished house. That’s exactly the situation Violet Browne found herself in when she lost her husband to the sea almost three decades ago. This book is inspired by her own story of a lost husband and by all the years between then and now.

Young people are immortal. They lose their immortality one of two ways. Either quickly, by dying, or slowly, by living…

Rose is lost without Luke, but she must somehow carry on. With the help and support of her children and her family–particularly her sister Cela–Rose is able to pull herself together well enough to take care of the children, find work, and eventually go back to school. She ‘visits’ Luke every year on their anniversary through the wall of the house he built, despite the toll it takes on her. As the years go by, she notices how young Luke remains while she grows steadily older.

Rose can’t shake the urge, every day, to crawl under something and lie down. Go deep into the woods to lick her wounds. She hates having to tell herself that he is not coming back in through that door. No matter how long she waits.

Rose’s children are the reason she is able to keep going on her hardest days. Maggie, the oldest, is “bright and bubbly and beautiful.” She is “the kind of person who will save the world, if she’s not crushed by it.” Liam is “brilliant and tolerant and full of anxiety.” Emily, the baby, longs for the father she never knew.

Ever since her father vanished when she was fifty-three days old, Emily’s body has been gripped by a vibration at the molecular level. It hums. Certain combinations of matter spark sentience within the molecular structure as a whole; take water, add some carbon and nitrogen and a couple handfuls of trace elements and these molecules may, as in Emily’s case, spend a human life in search of paternal connection. Her body defies the established bounds of physics, biology, logic, in favour of a genetically driven, atomic keening–Emily is compelled to map its surface in piercings and tattoos.

This story is raw, painful, and full of longing. But there’s also love and joy. Her sister, children, and studies bring Rose purpose and fulfillment, and romantic love is not forever out of the picture. Through her poetic prose, Browne shows us how life can be excruciatingly hard, painful and good, sometimes all at once.

Some things require more than one heart.

Further Reading:

The Miramichi Reader:Violet Browne’s debut novel is as sturdy and spare as the fishermen of Newfoundland, her prose as cool and deep as the seas they fish, as stark and hauntingly beautiful as the province itself.

Saltwire:The story is set over multiple timelines, from 1978 to 2015, unfolding in oscillations and occasional returns. It’s more than a structural technique, although it does allow event and memory to propel the text. But it also shapes time itself into something of a character, one which is interacting with Rose in an unexpected, even transgressive, manner.

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for sending me a copies of both books!

6 thoughts on “Two from Gooselane Editions: ‘The Gunsmith’s Daughter’ and ‘This Is the House That Luke Built’

    • Naomi says:

      I liked how it took me to Vietnam. Most of the Vietnam books I’ve read have been from the refugee perspective. I learned some new things!

  1. annelogan17 says:

    These both sound great, although the last appeals to me more. I must admit I have morbid thoughts often of how truly desperate I would be if something happened to my husband and I become a single mother. I have so much respect for parents who keep on going, even after their significant other and co-parent has passed away. My Dad is one of these, and I’m forever grateful for his strength!

    • Naomi says:

      Sometimes I imagine the worst things that could happen. It seems morbid, but I think most of us do it. We probably all have our own ‘favourite’ morbid scenarios. Lol
      Your Dad sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing that! 🙂

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