Street Angel is part of Wilfrid Laurier's Life Writing series, as is Magie Dominic's work of non-fiction, The Queen of Peace Room, which chronicles an eight-day retreat spent with Catholic nuns, their days ordered by prayers and rituals.
This slim novel moves readers through time like a kaleidoscope, through the days of the week and through the years.
"From the very beginning of time to now, in the back seat of my father’s car, it took 600 million years for Newfoundland to rise from the ocean floor. How did I get from the beginning of time to my father’s Chevrolet with the chains on the bumper? Count it!"
Magie Dominic's works are somewhat like bookends, nearly a pair but each holding up its own end of stacked memories. Both are narratives characterized by a meditative tone coupled with a reliance upon evocative details to create mood and scene. But Street Angel perfectly captures entire decades in a handful of sentences.
"It’s 1957, 1958. Paul Anka and Ricky Nelson are on the radio. Pat Boone and “Love Letters in the Sand.” “Wake Up Little Susie.” The Asian flu is in China, Russia launches Sputnik, and Humphrey Bogart dies in Hollywood. Father Knows Best. The Blob. The Fly. The Thing That Couldn’t Die. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Three Faces of Eve—Joanne Woodward goes completely berserk because she’s three people at once and loses her mind with a venetian blind in her hand. I will never forget The Three Faces of Eve, and I will never feel safe around a venetian blind for the rest of my life."
It is so satisfying at the sentence level that readers, particularly those with a penchant for coming-of-age stories (coming-to-understanding-an-earlier-age, might be more accurate for The Queen of Peace Room), might find themselves flagging passages on every page (perhaps I should say every minute).
"Newfoundland is triangular, with unpredictable winters and sometimes violent winds. The west coast is an extension of North America. The east coast was once part of Africa. The continents collided, lava gushed forth, and Newfoundland was created—and with it a soil combination producing flowers found nowhere else on the face of the earth. The island is covered with mountains 300 million years old. This is exactly where I was born eleven years ago—on a 300-million-year-old triangle."
While clearly one particular woman's story, there are many aspects to her experience to which readers will respond as universals.
"There are two things I can’t get enough of: movies and snow. Movies change anything that’s going on in my mind, and snow changes the world around me. Snow transforming the town, icicles as tall as a house, and angel shapes in the snowbanks."
Much of this story is difficult, however, even painful (which readers of Queen of the Peace Room will expect): "I’m trying to piece every shred of my life back together again—if there ever was a before."
But ultimately it is a narrative infused with hope:
"I still have my slightly pigeon-toed feet and a tragic look on my face, and I still don’t know how to have a real conversation. It’s all followed me for all fifteen years of my life. But it doesn’t matter on the top of this hill, with its dark trees and sky, mountains folded around it like a body in sleep. The Beothuk walked here before me—there’s no doubt in my mind about that. And they probably prayed in thanksgiving for the sacred view. Smoked from their long wooden pipes. Chanted in gratitude."
There is a quiet humour to the narrative voice, which makes Street Angel a true pleasure to read. Which is no small feat because knitting together a shredded life must involve a few dropped stitches and some painful reworking of old patterns.
This excerpt from the narrative sums up Street Angel beautifully: "It’s a cup of hot tea and something homemade at the end of the day. And it’s everything in between."
That "in between" is sometimes hard to swallow but the taste the meal leaves on your tongue is the sort which makes you want to invite all your friends to share a second helping.
This review originally appeared on BuriedInPrint.