I zoomed through this book It s an easy read, but highly enjoyable and engaging.
The book is narrated by both the author and through the voice of the main character, Stacey MacAindra She s a 1960s housewife with 4 kids, living in the suburbs of Vancouver Her husband, Mac, is a salesman at first for an essential oils company, and then later for a bogus vitamin company called Richalife Stacey is a bit bored with being a mother, with being left alone all the time with her kids, with her uncommunicative husband and his phony vitamin pills and ridiculous God like boss, with hips that are too big It was so refreshing to read a slice of life book that was candid, hilarious, truthful, and simple So many of Laurence s observations from the 1960s voiced through Stacey are equally applicable today.
I highly recommend this book Amazingly, I found a review of The Fire Dwellers from the 60s tucked away in the back of my copy The review is by Philip Sykes and it is pretty spot on Margaret Laurence s new woman a woman of our time, bitchy and brave as she finds her compromise with life.
Mrs Stacey MacAindra of Bluejay Crescent, Vancouver, is an entirely contemporary woman, one of the first in Canadian fiction Mrs Stacey MacAindra is the heroine of Margaret Laurence s novel The Fire Dwellers.
We celebrate Margaret Laurence for her women Her earlier Canadian novels were built around unforgettable women Hagar in The Stone Angel and Rachel in A Jest of God , which was filmed by Paul Newman as Rachel Rachel Stacey MacAindra shares their roots in the enclosed life of the Manitoba town of Manawaka she is in fact the older sister of Rachel Cameron, the yearning schoolmarm in A Jest of God Unlike Rachel, Stacey left the small town before it could scar her and joined the suburban middle class She is a salesman s wife with four kids and a mortgage, entrapped not by a hypochondriac mother but by the four walls of the family room, disturbed not by Main Street gossips but by the violence on TV Her concerns are as contemporary as those of any pert, heavy hipped matron pushing a cart to the Muzak in your supermarket.
The most contemporary thing is the interior candor, the self awareness Rachel Cameron phantasized lovers in a lonely bed the unblushing Stacey MacAindra addresses herself in a bitchy and self mocking monologue, earthy and colloquial.
This interior voice, which invests Stacey MacAindra with charm and her story with unity, is an irreverent third party in her conversations While she mouths politenessitcurses, debunks, jibes It comments on her crises, as when she rows with her husband about their mutual infidelities What about the girl, Mac Thor s secretary That s different, I suppose It s okay for you to touch her.
Yes itisdifferent, if you really want to know It s not what you re obviously thinking.
I bet I just bet We go on this way and the needle jabs become razor strokes and the razor strokes become hunting knives and the knives become swords and how do we stop Knives become swords As Stacey MacAindra slops gin, struggles to reach her changing children, commits adultery, her unspoken voice remarks the small capacity of individuals to communicate with and know one another It marks the silences between husband and wife, father and son The wounding silences.
The trouble with stating so universal a problem is that you can never hope to resolve it, and The Fire Dwellers never does It is an inconclusive story Stacey and her family lurch through a series of emotional storms and find some kind of surcease Temporarily they are all or less okay If the story is flawed, the portraiture is splendid Stacey MacAindra s husband, children and neighbours are less characters than the imperfectly focussed material of her perceptions The one significant development is the psychic maturing of a woman as she rounds 40, moving from restless seeking to a stoic s compromise From now on, the dancing goes on only in the head It is the authentic portrait of a woman of our time Some favourite quotes Very far away, in a galaxy countless light years from this planet, a scorpion tailed flower faced film buff sits watching a nothing shaped undulating screen He decides he s seen enough He switches off the pictures which humans always believed were themselves, and the imaginary planet known as Earth vanishes p.
80 Along with the Superware, families are shown on each page Kids beam peacefully and undisturbedly Mothers with young untired faces glow contentedly Fathers with young untired faces smile proudly and successfully Grandmothers with young untired faces gaze graciously and untroubledly p.
89 Today I saw a girl walking up the street towards me, a plain girl unfashionably dressed, and from a distance I thought it was myself coming back to meet me with a wiser chance But it wasn t p 89 But how is it I can feel as well that I m spending my life in one unbroken series of trivialities It would be nice to have something of my own, that s all I can t go anywhere myself Only as Mac s wife, or the kids mother And yet I m getting now so that I actually prefer to have either Mac or one of the kids along Even to the hairdresser, I d rather take Jen It s easier to face the world with one of them along Then I know who I m supposed to be p 95 Perhaps it isn t that the masks have been put on, one for each year like the circles that tell the age of a tree Perhaps they ve been gradually peeled off, and what s there underneath is the face that s always been there for me, the unspeaking eyes, the mouth for whom words were too difficult p.
170 He believes you have to work very hard in this life, just to keep your head above water, or to escape whatever it is that s waiting to crush you like a grape And even then you may lose at any momentI m not sorry he hasn t got anywhere Where is there to get, that you would all that much want to be p.
199 You want to ask them if they know any longer what the poles mean, or if its a language which has got lost and now there isn t anything to replace it except silence and sometimes the howling of men who ve been separated from themselves for so long that it s only a dim memory, a kind of violent mourning, only a reason to stay as drunk as they can for as long as they can You don t ask anybody anything You haven t suffered enough You don t know what they know You don t have the right to pry So you look, and then you go away p.
227 It s like church you think maybe if you go, the faith will be given, but it isn t It has to be there already in you, I guess Or maybe you have to persevere p.
277 EVER OPEN EYE STREETS IN CITIES NOT SO FAR AWAY ARE BURNING BURNING IN RAGE AND SORROW SET ABLAZE BY THE CHILDREN OF SAMSON AGONISTES VOICE RIOTS ARE SAID TO BE WELL UNDER CONTROL IN I see it and then I don t see it It becomes pictures And you wonder about the day when you open your door and find they ve been filming those pictures in your street p.
305 I remember one particular camping trip we took as a family I don t remember how old I was probably pre teens at any rate It was after dinner and my father and brother were going fishing I wanted to go fishing with them too, but I had to stay behind and help my mother with the dishes and putting things away It was a pivotal moment in my life and I distinctly remember thinking, If this is what it means to be a woman, I don t want any part of it The fantastic Canadian author, Margaret Laurence, paints a desolate picture of a housewife and mother, who is desperate to find some meaning to her life The era was the 60 s, at the same time that I was resentfully doing the camp dishes Stacy, nearing 40, is a stay at home wife and mother of four She lives mostly in her head as she disappears as a person.
The writing style emphasises that isolation Quotation marks are conspicuously missing That gives me a feeling of muteness, of silence, almost as if there is an inability of speech I don t know if that was intentional or not, or just my reaction I had that same reaction to another book that did not use quotation marks.
The Fire Dwellers is another of Margaret Laurence s famous books I use the word book instead of novel because it entailed a weird approach that was a stream of Stacey s thoughts, instead of a clear plot and goal Events follow a chronology but we observe a scattering of thoughts at first Thereafter action, dialogue, and the narration take on the recognizable shape of a story that we follow easily Indeed, my investment rose when the progression of a plot appeared.
Margaret, our revered authoress from Neepawa, Manitoba lived in Africa with her husband, Jack, when they married an engineer Their homeland featured afterwards These present characters from a town standing in for Neepawa but are unrelated even though this andA Jest Of God , pertain to sisters However, Rachel remained in Manawaka and Stacey settled in Vancouver marrying and mothering I was sure I could look forward to a sequel but this is about Stacey s brood Her husband for example, argues about how to handle their middle children an agitated boy rejecting a younger one Their fourteen year old is a responsible girl of 1969 Jen is two, thus Stacey can seldom go out.
With a common scene on the cover of climbing into a car and for example, not liking to tell her reverend Father in law that they aren t religious I love Margaret s ordinary household I cheered when she dared to find pleasure later All conversation and inner thoughts forge ahead without quotations marks, much less any she said, he said that many authors interpose unnecessarily Impatient readers might bail out before this book hits its stride We route for Stacey and her family later Excitement revs up that engrosses us and Three stars own up to a slow start but please know that a worthwhile, many layered story surfaces.
A novel that must have made quite a sensation on first release, capturing with amazing detail the dawn of post 60s women s liberation and questioning the position of homemaker, housewife, and mother in the suburbs of modern city life In fact, the label contemporary wouldn t have done it enough justice, even for 1969 Reading it now, it s a remarkable historical artifact that maintains its power in spite of so much time having passed, and the monumental changes that have occurred in society This wasn t at all what I was expectingand it s all the wonderful as a result.
This was exceptionally well written I was superbly impressed with the skillfulness of Laurence s creation of characters and the depth of personality that she created.
At the core of it, it was about the difficulty of relating to others, expressing ourselves, and the sensation of being trapped in your head Despite being in a totally different life situation from the protagonist, I found her challenges absolutely relatable and, in some ways, I felt like I understood my own mother better.
I also appreciate that while this is deeply in the realm of second wave feminism, I was impressed with the awareness of colonialism and intersectional concerns.
I m excited to read Margaret Laurence Though I found this book a little hard to read with the unusual dialogue and writing format, I still greatly enjoyed this story of a fearful and trapped 60s housewife I found the subject matter quite racy for the time it was written but I could identify with many of Stacey s fears and thoughts and ideas Being a stay at home mom myself, I appreciated the honesty that she expressed towards the care she gave her kids and how she sometimes felt trapped but still worried about them so immensely I love Laurence and this book was no exception.
The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence is the third book in the Manawaka series The books in the series do not necessarily have to be read in order, although that is how I m doing it There are two common links between all five books first, Manawaka is a fictional small town in the prairies where all the central female characters lived at one time and second, there is always a central female character who is also the narrator Each book describes the innermost thoughts as well as, worlds of the main character As usual, Laurence s writing in The Fire Dwellers is brilliant Her prose is very descriptive and her insight into human lives and relationships is remarkable Laurence is also innovative and is way ahead of her time as a writer It was almost 50 years ago when this book was published and yet there are zero quotation marks used with dialogue, despite dialogue being a major component of the story Laurence also writes in a sort of stream of consciousness In The Fire Dwellers, the main character Stacey spends a lot of time in her head, thinking and critiquing herself and others and talking regularly to herself about what to do and not do etceteras It is Stacey s inner voice, like the one may of us have, that Laurence shares so cleverly so we can get to know Stacey.
The inner mind activity is part of Laurence s other books as well, but it plays a particularly significant role in telling Stacey s story in The Fire Dwellers Stacey Cameron MacAindre is Rachel Cameron s older sister the narrator in A Jest of God Rachel has been married for about 16 years Her husband is rather uncommunicative and works a lot of time away from home She is busy raising 4 children, from age 2 to 14, so she really has her hands full Throughout the day while taking care of her children, she does not really have any adult company Oftentimes at night when her parental responsibilities continue while her children are in bed, Stacey is the lone parent because her husband Mac is still working Despite being lonely, Stacey is fiercely loyal to her husband and children and takes her responsibilities very seriously At the same time however, she feels stuck and at times the responsibly feels seems overwhelming She left her childhood home in a small town to get away to excitement and is now feeling terribly guilty about wanting to get away again from her isolation in Vancouver and the responsibilities with her children and husband that come with it She feels much the same as when she fled her childhood home a yearning for change and excitement.
I didn t related as well to Stacey as I did to both previous main characters Hagar Shipley, an older women with dementia who can no longer live alone and Rachel Cameron, a school teacher who never married and continued to live in her widowed mother s home to take care of her I am not sure why this was the case although I do know that I am not used to a household full of children and found Stacey s inner chatter a bit whiny and incessant to the point of becoming irritating It was apparent she was lonely, felt unappreciated and wanted to have a exciting life I totally got this but felt she needed to stop complaining and to do something about it talk to her husband, talk to a counsellor, try to meet new people or get involved in some activities outside of her home Unfortunately, she seemed to take a lot of solace in her gin and tonic and used alcohol to numb her pain I am a bit surprised that I did not feel empathetic towards Stacey It wasn t until the latter part of the book, when Stacey displayed her vulnerability and started to reach out to help her husband and encourage him to be communicative that I felt connected She experienced a few real life scares during when she fully displayed how caring, guilty and frightened she was about not being a good mother her terminology She seemed to take her job so seriously too seriously in my opinion that I started to like her Her understanding of her father in law and his issues and the lengths she went to help him, despite her husband s lack of initiative in helping his own father quite impressed me and showed me a softer, loving side of herself.
There are lots of 60 s memories in this book peace marches, house d cor, hats, dresses worn while shopping, weekly hair salon visits etceras in this book It was a waltz down memory lane Like her first and second books in the series, as mentioned earlier, Laurence s writing, her dialogue and descriptions are impressive She can be sparse and to the point or write lengthy lyrical descriptions Both demonstrate wonderful writing skills Laurence s insight into human nature and relations are incredibly astute but I think what makes her most impressive, as a writer who wrote this book 50 years ago, is her character development, not just describing with words but also understanding of them to their core and her innovation with the written word Some extras you can look forward to an Alex Colville painting reproduced on the cover and an interesting Afterword by Sylvia Fraser.
It is not surprising that Laurence s Manawaka series, including The Fire Dwellers has withstood the test of time and will likely remain a classic for years to come While it took a while for the book to really engage me with the primary character As usual Laurence s writing was strong The first half read like 3 stars but the second half was so much stronger that I rounded up an overall 3 1 2 star read to 4 stars due to the strength of the second half.
So begins The Fire Dwellers, with Stacey MacAindra, formerly of Manawaka, Manitoba, now a suburban Vancouver housewife and mother of four, nearly 40, torn between flying away and flying home dwelling in the fires there until her children need her no I read this book for the first time when my eldest daughter was first born, and although I didn t feel trapped in suburban ennui, I could recognise the truth of Stacey s situation, so beautifully portrayed here with internal monologues, halting arguments with her husband, Mac, and fretful attempts to raise her children without ruining them in the ways predicted by magazine articles and quizzes I am now older than Stacey, and happily still don t feel trapped in the ways she is, but the truths in this book are still eternal This is the scene that has stayed with me over the years and I ll put it all here so I can revisit it at will Tommy Dorsey Boogie The clear beat announces itself Stacey finishes her drink, fixes another one, drinks half of it quickly and sets the glass down on top of the TV She looks at her gold sandals, her green velvet tights She puts her arms out, stretching them in front of her, her fingers moving slightly, feeling the music as though it were tangibly there to be touched in the air Slowly, she begins to dance Then faster and faster.
Stacey Cameron in her yellow dress with pleats all around the full skirt Knowing byinstinct how to move, loving the boy s close ness, whoever he was Stacey twirling outonto the floor, flung by the hand that wouldcatch her when she came jazzily flying back.
Tommy Dorsey Boogie Stacey spinning likelight, whirling laughter across a polished floor.
Every muscle knowing what to do by itself.
Every bone knowing Dance hope, girl, dancehurt Dance the f ing you ve never yet done Once it seemed almost violent, this music Now it seems incredibly gentle Sentimental, self indulgent Yeh, probably But I love it It s my beat I can still do it I can still move without knowing where, beforehand Yes Yes Yes Like this Like this I can My hips may not be so hot but my ankles are pretty good, and my legs Damn good in fact My feet still know what to do without being told I love to dance I love it It can t be over I can still do it I don t do it badly, see Like this Like this I love it The hell with what the kids say In fifteen years their music will be just as corny Naturally they don t know that I love this music It s mine Buzz off, you little buggers, you don t understand No I didn t mean that I meant it I was myself before any of you were born Don t listen in, God this is none of your business The music crests, subsides, crests again, blue green sound, saltwater with the incoming tide, the blues of the night freight trains across snow deserts, the green beckoning voices, the men still unheld and the children yet unborn, the voices cautioning no caution no caution only dance what happens to come along until The record player switches off Was I hearing what was there, or what How many times have I played it God it s three thirty in the afternoon and I m stoned The kids will be home in one hour Okay, pick up the pieces Why did I do it Yours not to reason why, Stacey baby, yours but to go and make nineteen cups of Nescafe before the kids get home Quickly Jen Lord, she must ve been awake for hours Oh Stacey Interestingly, I had forgotten the following scene, which is just as important Katie has put on one of her own records Something with a strong and simple beat, slow, almost languid, and yet with an excitement underneath, the lyrics deliberately ambiguous.
Katie is dancing In a green dress Katie MacAindra simple and intricate as grass is dancing by herself Her auburn hair, long and straight, touches her shoulders and sways a little when she moves She wears no make up Her bones and flesh are thin, plain moving, unfrenetic, knowing their idiom Stacey MacAindra, thirty nine, hips ass and face heavier than once, shamrock velvetpants, petunia purple blouse, cheap gilt san dals high heeled, prancing, squirming, jigglingStacey turns and goes very quietly up the basement steps and into the living room You won t be dancing alone for long, Katie It s all going for you I m glad Don t you think I m glad Don t you think I know how beautiful you are Oh Katie love I m glad I swear it Strike me dead, God, if I don t mean it I recently listened to The Thing About Life Is That One Day You ll Be Dead, and in it the author asks a psychologist why mothers and their teenage daughters butt heads as they do The doctor replies that it has to do with the passing of the reproductive torch the mother is reluctant to be put out to pasture and the daughter feels the weight of the responsibility, along with a surge of the power of her new position in the family I raised an eyebrow at this Freudian slant I don t think it really applies to my relationships with my own teenage daughters in my mind we re not even butting heads , or the relationship I had with my own mother for that matter, but it seems somewhat applicable to Stacey What s interesting is how it plays out in the shadows Stacey dances alone, wanting her children to know, without her telling them, I was myself before any of you were born Stacey watches Katie dancing alone and wants her to know, without telling her, that she s glad for her daughter and the future ahead of her Stacey even wonders if her mother ever danced, but knows it s a question she ll never ask The Fire Dawellers really is from a different time I am also a housewife, a stay at home mom, and while I don t experience life the way that Stacey does I don t know if anyone does, any , she is a real and breathing character, someone whose truth I can t help but identify with, at any age it seems Another stellar book from the Manawaka Series.
Stacey MacAindra Burns To Burst Through The Shadows Of Her Existence To A Richer Life, To Recover Some Of The Passion She Can Only Dimly Remember From Her Past The Fire Dwellers Is An Extraordinary Novel About A Woman Who Has Four Children, A Hard Working But Uncommunicative Husband, A Spinster Sister, And An Abiding Conviction That Life Has To Offer Her Than The Tedious Routine Of Her DaysMargaret Laurence Has Given Us Another Unforgettable Heroine Human, Compelling, Full Of Poetry, Irony And Humour In The Telling Of Her Life, Stacey Rediscovers For Us All The Richness Of The Commonplace, The Pain And Beauty In Being Alive, And The Secret Music That Dances In Everyone S Soul