The Heaviness of Things that Floats
Jennifer Manuel skilfully depicts the lonely world of Bernadette, a woman who has spent the last forty years living alone on the periphery of a remote West Coast First Nations reserve, serving as a nurse for the community. This is a place where truth and myth are deeply intertwined and stories are “like organisms all their own, life upon life, the way moss grows around poplar trunks and barnacles atop crab shells, the way golden chanterelles spring from hemlock needles. They spread in the cove with the kelp and the eelgrass, and in the rainforest with the lichen, the cedars, the swordferns. They pelt down inside raindrops, erode thick slabs of driftwood, puddle the old logging road that these days led to nowhere.”
Only weeks from retirement, Bernadette finds herself unsettled, with no immediate family of her own—how does she fit into the world? Her fears are complicated by the role she has played within their community: a keeper of secrets in a place “too small for secrets.” And then a shocking announcement crackles over the VHF radio of the remote medical outpost: Chase Charlie, the young man that Bernadette loves like a son, is missing. The community is thrown into upheaval, and with the surface broken, raw dysfunction, pain, and truths float to the light.
Manuel’s writing is revelatory. It carries implicit wisdom about the tension between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, that is there because of their divergent past histories, even when they don’t know it and try their best to overcome it… And as well as carrying a meaningful message about aboriginal people, Manuel has written a well-timed, compelling and readable novel…one that is deeply of our time and place in B.C. and Canada in this time of Truth and Reconciliation.
~ Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun, April 2016(Vancouver Sun)
"[The Heaviness of Things That Float's] sage, funny, and heartbreaking narrative makes for a deep and compassionate read."
~ Rachel Thompson, Room Magazine, issue 39.4(Rachel Thompson, Room Magazine)
“The Heaviness of Things that Float is at its best when the tension between Bernadette as an outsider and the resistance of the Tawakin people to having their stories told for them is brought to the fore, most powerfully in the outcome of the search for Chase. As Bernadette concludes towards the end of the novel, “nobody could ever wholly know the heart of another, no matter which side of the unbalanced world they lived on.” (284)
~ Anjalika Samarasekera, PRISM international, July 2016(PRISM international,)
“Though Tawakin is a fictional place, Manuel creates a very realistic story for readers… the story retains a spiritual acceptance of fate and its consequences. This novel is a great read for any lover of the ocean and coastal aboriginal culture, and it will transport you to a peaceful place where hidden realities lie waiting.”
~ Kaeleigh Phillips, Women’s Post, April 2016(Women’s Post)
About the Author
Jennifer Manuel has won awards for her short fiction, including the Storyteller's Award at the Surrey International Writer's Conference in 2013. She has also published short fiction in PRISM International, The Fiddlehead, Room Magazine and Little Fiction. Author Diana Gabaldon describes Manuel's writing as "astonishing in its intimacy, delicate complexity and sense of compassion." A long-time activist in Aboriginal issues, Manuel taught elementary and high school in the lands of the Tahltan and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples. She lives on Vancouver Island, BC.