Light on a Part of the Field
- NeWest Press
- Initial publish date
- May 2021
- Family Life, Contemporary Women, Literary
Paperback / softback
- Publish Date
- May 2021
- List Price
- Publish Date
- Apr 2021
- List Price
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Where to buy it
In his evocative debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, Kevin Holowack introduces us to a family grappling with artistic ambition, mental illness, and rifts that may not be possible to mend. Set in BC and Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s, this is a novel of finely observed vignettes offering a refracted look at art and family in the modern West.
A young artist, Ruth, and her obsessive husband, an aspiring poet, are struck by lightning, an experience that throws their lives into a universe of intense beauty and angst. Years later, Ruth lives on a farm her husband bought before his mysterious disappearance, and she creates idyllic but naïve paintings to cope with her confusion and loss. Then, without warning, her eldest daughter Gayle is love-struck by a travelling stranger and runs off to Edmonton where she too must contend with poverty, sickness, and her father's upsetting legacy. Meanwhile, farm-bound Ruth becomes more frantic in her work and begins longing for human contact as her house and animals disintegrate around her.
As Gayle and Ruth seek new ways of connecting in order to remedy their unsettling family legacy, they begin a complicated process of renewal and must decide whether they can reconcile despite all the pain they have caused one another.
About the author
Kevin Holowack is a writer from Edmonton who has his M.A. in English from the University of Alberta. He has lived in various places across Canada and Europe. His work has been published in Glass Buffalo and Lemon Hound/i>.
Excerpt: Light on a Part of the Field (by (author) Kevin Holowack)
~ 1979 ~
He lights a match.
The phosphorous glow throws shadows behind the irregular shapes of the barn and reveals three cows standing together for warmth. One turns to examine the dishevelled young man standing in the doorway.
A trough in the corner contains a thumb-deep reserve of water. The man forces the barn door shut and hobbles toward it, letting his rucksack fall to the hay. The match goes out when he leans over the edge of the basin, lowers his cupped hands and brings some of the liquid to his mouth. He gags. The cow-water mingles with his saliva. It tastes woody. Something that shouldn't be consumed.
Considering I stopped at the first shelter I saw, he tells himself, I should feel lucky for all this. He remembers the last time he vomited and collapsed. It was a month ago in Vancouver, a public library, an ordinary day in an ordinary place, now distant.
In a nearby house, a radio mumbles. A young woman and a girl sit in the upstairs bedroom. The girl creaks a rocking chair. The woman watches the storm through the window. Branches like suspended puppets.
Last year, she remembers, there was a storm like this that threw a tree clear through the kitchen window.
"Do you think it'll happen again?"
"What are you talking about?" the girl asks.
A faint orange light slips between the cracks of the barn, flickers for a minute and disappears.
"There's someone in the barn."
The young woman puts on a jacket and walks out. When she opens the barn door, she brings with her a flood of lantern light.
The man in the hay is maybe eighteen, twenty, twenty-three? She bends over to get a closer look. A baby face but with stubble. A boy and a man at the same time, depending on the angle, like one of those novelty holograph pictures that changes when you flip it back and forth.
She leaves for a few minutes and returns with a plate of bread and cheese, a knife, and a glass bottle of water. She places the items by his elbow. He's still as dirt. Almost. Probably not dead.
The rain continues overnight and into morning.
"I just brought him food and water, that's all."
"And the knife? I noticed it was missing."
Her mother sighs. "You're a silly girl, Gayle. A silly, stupid, silly girl."
"I know you're trying to help, but--why did you give a trespasser a weapon?"
Rain surrounds the house like static. Outside, grey light yawns through the clouds and falls on the yard, the fences, a truck pulling a trailer across the road, the trees, the barn--
"It's fine, Gayle. I'll call Davidson. He'll come with his sons and they'll drag him out." The mother grabs the phone, sticks her finger in the first digit, pulls, watches the dial churn back.
"Those boys are morons. They'll throw him out like a vagrant."
"He is a vagrant."
"But he's my age, I think. Probably just some hippy. He's got a mum, too."
The stranger is still unconscious when they return.
"He doesn't look so heavy," says the mother. "Looks like he puked on himself, too, so--where do we bring him?"
"To the sofa in the library. Put some old blankets down."
Gayle uses the edge of her coat to wipe matted straw from his face and then loops her arms around his shoulders. Her mother takes the legs.
When he wakes, he's lying on a sofa in a large room filled with bookshelves, looked down upon by coloured spines.
There is no clock.
It's warm and he's sweating. A small fireplace crackles. He listens to creaks in the walls and the floor, the sound of the rain, for what he feels to be half an hour. Feeling more comfortable than he suspects he should, he sits up and takes a book.
Soon Gayle appears in the doorway. "Are you awake?"
"Are you hungry, thirsty?"
"You're not okay. We carried you in here. And we took your sweatshirt. It had puke on it."
The girl has a strange way of speaking, he thinks. Long pauses between her sentences, like she's talking with ellipses.
Gayle leaves to fetch a tray with a cup of tea, a small shepherd's pie, and a thimble glass of rum. She hands it to the stranger and stands looking down at him.
"I'm not a tramp"--he blows on the teacup rim--"if that's what you're thinking."
"What happened to you?"
"I'm sick, I guess. It comes and goes."
"And I drank from the trough. Couldn't have helped."
"You drank the cow's water?"
"I hitched one long ride, but the guy let me off outside Salmon Arm. I just started walking. It was late so I went looking for a place to curl up and not be bothered. But then the storm came and I got lost. I was parched. Water seemed nice. Didn't think it would be so rancid."
"Cows don't care. Are you done with your tea?"
"Do you want anything? Money for the food, I mean. I don't have much on me, but--" He watches gravy break through the face of the shepherd's pie.
Gayle takes a few steps around the room, gazing vacantly at the books while the stranger forks bits of potato from the bowl. As she collects the dishes, she notices a book tucked under his knee.
"My name's Lewis, by the way."
"You have a book under your leg."
"I shouldn't be touching your things. Sorry."
"What is it?"
He isn't sure. He takes the book and reads. "1819 Odes."
"You wake up in a strange house in the middle of nowhere and start reading poetry? Why did choose that one?"
"I like poetry."
"You like Keats?"
"I think my aunt used to like him."
"Your aunt liked Keats?"
"Why, is she dead?"
"No, just realized he was sappy."
"And where is she now, your aunt?"
"Somewhere out there."
"Oh." Gayle isn't interested the stranger's aunt. "And you, where are you going?"
"East, I mean. I'm going to Alberta." He smiles a straight-line smile. "How's that song go? 'Think I'll go to Alberta. Got some friends I could go workin' for. Weather's nice in the fall.' Something like that. You know it?"
"I'll leave you the rum. It's good for you. Kills bacteria."
After Gayle leaves, he opens the Keats book to a random page and takes a sip of rum. He's glad to be alive. And fed. He remembers reading the newspaper before he left Vancouver, a story about a man who pulled a woman out of a flipped car. The paper said he saved her life, a hero.
He wonders if something like this could make the newspaper: Hitchhiker's life saved by pretty girl near Salmon Arm.
Then he notices the smells of road grit and sweat.
He hobbles to his rucksack in the corner. There are a few spare shirts in there, and a razor, some soap, a notebook, an envelope with a few bills in it. Not much else.
Sunlight noses through the blinds, and he sets out in search of a bathroom to wash himself.
"I think he's lost, Mum," Gayle says across a table set with toast and tea. "Maybe homeless. Definitely harmless. Doesn't seem to know where he's going. And he mentioned some song about going to Alberta. Weird, hey?"
"I know what you're thinking, Gayle."
"Okay. We'll let him stay. Who knows with someone like that? He might be gone by morning."
"Did you tell your sister about our guest yet?"
"She walked in there while he was sleeping."
"She must be scared."
"Ami doesn't get scared. She just put her hands on her hips and said 'Is he a troll?'"
"Must be something she read. She thought Lewis was sleeping like a troll, with his toes sticking out from under the blanket and all that. He's up already, you know, smoking on the patio. I can hear him."
"Ah, a smoker." The mother dips her toast in the tea and lets it drip out. "You know, Gayle, it might be nice to have another hand around here again."
"We could get some of those odd projects done. Staining the fence, right? And the wood we got from that Mercer fellow needs to be cut. And we could always dig a few extra beds this year. It beats asking that unreliable Davidson kid. And I'll have more time for painting if I'm not doing chores, anyway. I'll go ask if he has any experience with cows."
The mother clears the table. "Have I ever joked before, Gayle? I only half-joke."
When the mother tells him he can stay, he nods and lets the last of the ash fall. Black, white, it scatters in the breeze.
"I've never worked on a farm, Miss--er, Ma'am--Miss?"
"City kid, huh? Don't worry. We're not real farmers. It's more of a hobby farm. And you can call me Ruth, by the way, not whatever you just said. I can give you an allowance."
The house has something called a "parlour" in it as well as the library and several spare bedrooms. He thinks it looks transplanted from another time and place but can't decide where. Maybe it's Victorian.
Gayle shows him the upstairs loft where he'll stay. The loft is spartan: a twin-sized bed, a sofa without cushions, a small desk, and two small lamps. Gayle flicks on both lamps.
"Ruth, your mother--"
"If I can ask, is she pretty rigorous?"
"Yeah, I mean--rigorous. I just want to know how to act."
"I don't know. She's my mother."
"What does she do?"
"For a job you mean? She's an artist. Is that a job? I could never figure that out."
"And your dad?"
She scoffs and covers it with a false laugh. "He's not here--hasn't been here in a while."
Praise for Light on a Part of the Field:
"In Kevin Holowack's novel Light on a Part of the Field, members of a flawed, dysfunctional family pursue their separate destinies, even though they cannot break their bonds with each other.... [This] is a quiet novel about traveling one's own path, no matter how winding or bitter it may be."
~ Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews"Holowack has crafted an excellent novel, precise in language but wide in scope, blending narrative with absorbing, essayistic passages on the nature of prose, philosophy and spirituality. A bolt of lightning might hit us at any time. The real mystery is what keeps us going, despite the fear of what might be lurking hidden and unknown in the clouds."
~ Bryn Evans, Alberta Views
"Edmonton author Kevin Holowack's debut novel, Light on a Part of the Field, displays mature literary skill that is surprising in a young writer."
~ Andrea Geary, Winnipeg Free Press
"A mesmerizing story of love, loss and obsession for a family out of sync with the world and its modern constraints. In chronicling the imperfect lives of the Windsors on their quest to find beauty in forgotten places, Holowack has created a masterpiece. Every sentence its own triumph."
~ Fran Kimmel, author of The Shore Girl and No Good Asking
"Light on a Part of the Field takes the reader on two parallel paths, the first through a family's individual experiences; the second, an ongoing contemplation of art, practice, love and philosophy as each member of the Windsor family embarks on the universal human quest for fulfillment and meaning."
~ Joan Crate, author of Black Apple