Anyone who read Ivan Ashley's first novel, Red Island Clay, will experience déjà vu when opening his second, Give Me Tomorrow, The Journey Back to Where It All Began (2011, Big Bridge Music, Canada, 221 pages). The author wasted little time to prove he's more than a one-book wonder. Yet he's still stuck on one story and a single set of characters.
(June 6, 2011)
In an unusual move, Ashley chose to retell the same love story, this time from the viewpoint of a different leading character. Set mainly in rural Canada, the yarn begins in 1950 and goes for a lifetime. Give Me Tomorrow follows its protagonist, Ann Browning, through four provinces. Born in New Brunswick, she grew up mainly on Prince Edward Island and lived much of her adult life in Ontario and Quebec.
Ann indulges in a long relationship with a childhood neighbor named Tom Lowden (the hero of Red Island Clay). Their attachment never relents, but doesn't quite lead to matrimony, at least not to each other. “Give Me Tomorrow is a heart-breaking story, but it is a good heartbreak,” the author says.
His characters struggle to grasp love, although it flutters close. “The night was bright with the full moon shining down. They could see the ebb and flow of the waves gently breaking on the sand beside their feet. After skipping a few rocks on the water, they walked arm in arm and it seemed that all time and eternity were looking down on a man so in love and a woman who wasn't sure.”
Certain overly familiar passages may tempt some readers to toss the book aside, but patience pays. When Ann moves to Central Canada, leaving Tom behind, Give Me Tomorrow finally hits its stride.
Luckily, Ann takes the readers along. “Driving through the province of Quebec was an interesting part of the trip for Ann. Although she had read and studied about it in school, it wasn't quite the same to her as actually seeing it for herself. Most noticeable to her was the art culture, from the colour of paint on the houses to the pictures painted wherever the residents saw fit to display their works. There were also the religious statues not only on the churches but also displayed on homes, yards and buildings of any sort. Quebec was certainly a display of colour and art, she thought.”
Eventually, Ashley makes this “retelling of the same story” significantly different. It's less about rural ways than about how everyone experiences constant, tough-to-evaluate successes and failures. One theme warns against procrastination, another highlights the value of faithfulness and a third stresses good “character”.
“Oh, my, she thought, how unimportant looks are if you don’t have that whole character package that really matters. As she lay awake there in the darkness, she thought about how life was for her and about the bad decisions that she had made....”
Full of emotional highs and lows, the story even hints at scandal. “The temptation was just too great for even a preacher to handle and he promptly kissed her passionately on her lips and held a very beautiful woman in his arms.”
Ashley sprinkles in authenticity with the delicate use of details. Children each receive “a fresh molasses cookie”. For an evening of music, there's “a Gordon Lightfoot concert in Charlottetown”. When Ann and a boyfriend see a movie, it’s “an Alfred Hitchcock production called ‘Rear Window’ starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.” A man suddenly dies “while watching the Tiger-Cats play the Blue Bombers in a Grey Cup game”.
As the story nears modernity, the most realistic detail of all appears. Caffeine-cravers constantly stop to indulge at the popular Tim Horton's coffee shops.
Give Me Tomorrow needed better editing and proof-reading. Typos and grammar problems scar too many pages. Carelessness can twist meanings. “After saying goodbye to family and friends, Ann and Andre were off to different points in Atlantic Canada for a five-day honeymoon.” What? They didn’t honeymoon together?
Yet Ashley also shows delightful word skills. “Ann reached home in the wee hours of the morning and when she walked in she found Andre asleep on the sofa with the television still wide awake.”
The white-haired author has a big advantage – he can rely on memories, having lived through much that he describes. “...the ‘Golden Decade’ had made its presence felt with its better cars, and Chevrolets, Fords and Dodges still led the way. The schools were much improved too with more washroom facilities and finished basements where sports and other activities could be held during inclement weather. There was a new kind of music that was sweeping the youth right off their feet. The great new beat was called ‘Rock and Roll’.”
Best known as a songwriter, Ashley begins each chapter with a snippet of suitable lyrics from his music. It's a nice touch. For example, a chapter about visiting the provincial fair begins:
“The old Ferris Wheel climbed into the sky,
She had me flying on a natural high.”
This author's creative ability can't be denied. Almost instinctively, he knows how to tell stories and to make them meaningful.
Now a huge question lingers. What other tales – new ones, please – does Ashley have to tell?
Approval rating: 77 per cent.
Ivan Ashley: Some readers may 'sing out'
that he told them much of the story before.