Set on the shores of modern-day Nova Scotia, two women are stagnated by grief and their own flawed versions of the past. Can the truth set them free?
When Emily and her family move back to Nova Scotia from Calgary, it is a return to the coastal landscape that already haunts her—and the waters where her father died. She meets her neighbour Linda, a gruff but loving widow and Linda's grown son, Tom, who struggles to stay on an even keel. As they settle in, Emily and her husband, Daniel, learn more about the short but turbulent history of the house they've just bought. With Daniel away for work, Emily becomes caught up in the lives of her neighbours, relying on Linda's friendship and growing closer to Tom, despite his unsettling knack for appearing when she least expects him. As the tension in each family builds, both Emily and Linda must confront long-unanswered questions.
With its nuanced depictions of marriage, parenting, grief and mental illness, and humorous, understated dialogue, Davison's debut is at once suspenseful and subtle.
About the author
Nicola Davison's first novel, In the Wake, won the 2019 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, the Miramichi Reader's Very Best Book Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Dartmouth Book Award. A graduate of Dalhousie University and the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program, she's an active member of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and can be spotted at most events toting a cumbersome camera. Her meandering path to writing this novel included time working at an animal shelter, several veterinary clinics, and a dog daycare. Now a professional photographer, she lives in Dartmouth with her husband, son, and a stubborn but delightful basset hound who is terrified of cats. She has no idea how to use Morse code. She's not even that good at texting. www.nicoladavison.ca
- Short-listed, Atlantic Book Awards, Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction)
- Winner, John and Margaret Savage First Book Award
Excerpt: In the Wake (by (author) Nicola Davison)
For years, she missed this grey, almost colourless landscape, the air nearly as sodden as the ocean. On days like this, you can squint out at the water and not be sure what you're seeing, the dark triangle of a sail or only the shifting thickness of fog. It's probably because her strongest link to him, Da, is out there in the mist, away from the solidity of land.
Daniel drives the rented moving truck. It sways on the road ahead while she brings up the rear with the delicate cargo. It's a single-lane highway with a narrow gravel shoulder. She slows for the next bend and avoids a maze of potholes. A highway is what it's called on maps. Stunted evergreens line the road, the thickest of their trunks still smaller than one of her thighs. When she pointed this out to Daniel, he automatically disagreed, admiring the curve of her hip, savvy husband.
A faded sign is propped at the end of a driveway. Whirligigs, it reads, and next to it a yellow-clad fisherman in a red dory spins the oars of his boat to an ever-receding shore. Next it's the local convenience store with large black letters announcing "izza" by the slice. Signs don't fare well in the stiff onshore winds.
The steam of her panting dog warms her left shoulder, while her son sits in miraculous silence, gaping at intermittent views of the sea out his window. They're coming up on the beach. "See any surfers out there, Ryan?"
He puts his forehead to the window and reports that there are seagulls. A wave licks over the edge of the road, leaving a trail of small rocks. A line of cars is parked in the narrow lot at the edge of the beach, the occupants glorying in the power of nature from the comfort of their vehicles. Braking, she feels the wind push the car sideways and grips the wheel a little tighter. Six days ago they left Calgary on a bright day with no snow in the forecast. Though not a confident driver, Emily is fine if the roads are familiar and the weather reasonable. Driving across Canada in the winter didn't fall within these parameters. Ryan and the dog had a love-hate relationship that played out in her rear-view mirror. They had to get good stretches of driving in whenever it wasn't storming. A serious dump of snow could stall them for days. So, she kept going in moderately frightening conditions, like black ice, thick fog, and her personal favourite, freezing rain with the thermometer ping-ponging between minus two and plus two.
"Almost home!" she sings out, trying to whip up some excitement as they pass the parking lot for the larger beach.
Daniel, on the other hand, less bothered by winter driving, has spent hours in solitude, sometimes listening to an entire audiobook in a day. If she could manage a large truck she'd have switched seats with him in a heartbeat, but the idea made her percolate with anxiety. And so, they ploughed on, their daily journey punctuated by unhealthy meals and unplanned bathroom stops.
She flicks on her signal light and they wind their way up the hill. Their hill. "You see it?" It's just coming into view. "The one with the flat roof? That's our new home."
Sheltering in her porch, Linda enjoys her one smoke of the day—really, this would be it—steeling herself to meet the new owners and hand over her key, finally. She's arranged to be around most of the day, having run all her errands the day before and cancelled an appointment.
There's a squeal of brakes; she stands to get a better view. A large white truck makes the turn onto her road. With only the three houses up here, it's likely to be the new people. Or is it just movers? It lumbers past and she lifts her hand. You always wave—there's a good chance you know the person, but if not it's better than just staring. The truck backs neatly into the driveway. Not bad. Linda only puts her car in reverse when absolutely necessary, avoiding the debacle of parallel parking at all costs. A man hops down from the driver's side and nips around the side of the house, out of sight. So much for gawking. She sinks back onto her chair and turns her head to keep an eye out for the rest of the parade.
She'd watched the skeleton of the house appear from her kitchen window years ago, an anomaly amidst the traditional homes nearby. The people, she was told, were come-from-aways, their architect too, sketching out a house better suited for a warmer place. They must be from down south somewhere, live in one of those cities where life hums along predictably, where you don't have to prepare for the possibility of long stretches without power every winter. They must've walked the site on an August afternoon, a precious fog-free day, been wooed by the vision of children playing in the waves below, gulls surfing the air currents, bright umbrellas along the beach. Heck, they probably assumed there was a beach all year too, unaware that the sea gathered up all the sand in the winter storms, only returning it for the summer months.
She still has the magazine article that featured the house. It was staged with sparse furniture, a pair of wine glasses resting on a patio table with a stunning sunset beyond, a blanket draped just so over the arm of a chair, a book face-down on the table as if the reader had just stepped away to answer the phone. But there were no people in the shots, even with the fire blazing away in the wood stove. The first owners were too private for that. So private that Linda had never met them. Two years later the sign went up and it sat there waiting for its next people while the new landscaping wilted in the salt air.
The couple that moved in next had hosted a housewarming party and invited the locals as well as their urban friends. They loved to cook and talked of doing yoga side by side every morning to the distant sound of the surf. They planned to put in a kitchen garden and have friends come out for fancy dinners. Foodies, they called themselves. But the guests petered out as the ice settled on the roads. They made it through Christmas. Then he took an apartment in the city, just to be closer to work. She had emphasized this, placing a hand on Linda's arm like it was she who needed reassuring. Sure enough, the house was dark again the following spring.
Reluctantly, she'd agreed to take the key and walk through the empty house, to satisfy their insurance company. The last time around, when the first owners decided to sell, her husband was still alive and he'd done the honours. He'd only met them the one time and agreed to monitor the place without telling her. Martin would sometimes be over there for hours, doing what she never knew but he never turned any lights on. Her own visits were brief. She'd pad through each room in her socks, the chill of the floor spreading through her, and peer out the windows. From her house, just down the hill, she had glimpses of the sea but nothing like this. Martin must have liked it here, but it made her feel small, exposed.
One day it dawned on her that there was only one door on the inside of the house, mercifully it was for the bathroom on the main floor. Everywhere else, it was just a wall that would discreetly hide views where necessary. It felt more like a place to display art. How would her family have stood up to this environment? She needed to have a sense of privacy, even if it was just a cheap door in a small house.
Now this must be them, soft things squashed against the car's back windows. There's no room in the driveway with the moving truck there. She watches them turn around at the end of the road and halt in front of the house with two tires planted on the front lawn.
Finishing her cigarette, Linda listens to it hiss as she touches it to the snow, drowning its little fire. Might as well go up and say hello, give them the key in case they don't have one yet. God knows that realtor might keep them waiting half the day.
He'd seemed a touch flighty when he pulled up in front of her house. His eyes darted around her yard like he was tallying up the details for her listing—split entry in a quiet area, walking distance to the beach, a handyman's dream. It was a family moving in, he said. He'd walked them through a few places before they decided on this one—moving back home—he didn't say from where.
She sighs and quickens her pace as she sees the car door fling open. Her voice isn't strong enough to be heard at this distance, calling out to warn her new neighbour about the ice.
"Memory's siren pull is as comforting and treacherous as the ocean in Nicola Davison's gorgeous debut novel. With striking acuity, In the Wake reveals how people's deepest desires are charged with danger, the bonds between those who love the most often fraught with self-deception. Nothing is ever quite as it appears to Davison's mothers of sons, who cling to their own visions of the past and present in this beautiful rendering of nouveau Nova Scotia." —Carol Bruneau, award-winning author of A Circle on the Surface and A Bird on Every Tree
"In the Wake is a subtle, heartfelt meditation on intimacy and the many ways we can lose those we love. Behind the seemingly tranquil backdrop of quotidian, seaside lives, a storm is building. As the novel moves towards its dramatic conclusion, Davison sensitively explores how grief and mental illness reverberate through families and across generations." —Sarah Faber, award-winning author of All is Beauty Now
"In the Wake gathers like a storm wave, throwing the characters forward. Nicola's writing is a lighthouse catching moments of sorrow and joy. Here, mental health is not a hashtag, but broken glass under wounded feet. This novel can deepen you." —Jon Tattrie, award-winning author of seven books, including the novels Black Snow and Limerence