“The Ladies Lending Library” by Janice Kulyk Keefer

ladies-lending-library.jpg This is summer cottage time in the Georgian Bay – but with a difference. The novel takes place in l963, and the families it describes came to Canada from the Ukraine, or Poland and are finding their way in a new life which challenges many of the old values and dearest memories. Not only have they just got settled in Toronto, or Hamilton, but now the problems of ill-equipped shabby cottages, endless chores of cooking and washing, as well as watching their l2-year olds as they rush down zig-zag paths to the beach almost overwhelm the mothers, as they wait all week for husbands to take the long drive up for the weekend.

Janice Kulyk Keefer concentrates on these women, waiting in Kalyna Bay, and forming a reading circle of what they considered daring titles to be kept hidden under their beds. Apart from a little gin and gossip, however, they are most excited by the new “Cleopatra” movie and the affairs, on and off the screen, of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

As the summer wears on we get a distinct impression of these newcomers trying above all to keep their group intact and conventional. The book’s ending therefore comes as a shocking surprise with the behaviour of the wife of the millionaire, and the strictest mother.

Janice Kulyk Keefer has won many prizes in Canada for her novels, short story collections, poetry and non-fiction. With this story she shows her skill and story-telling flair,as well as considerable sensitivity for a particular group of Canadians.

Review by Anne McDougall