A Gardener on the Moon – Carole Giangrande – 2010, Quattro Books, Ontario (co-winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky novella contest)
Traumatized and grieving, Pete LeBlanc returns to his family home and his girlfriend Lorraine in Massachusetts after fighting in World War II, only to find that he cannot stay: he packs up everything and moves to Quebec, Canada, leaving it all behind. He spends the next few decades erasing his former life – he becomes Pierre, he marries a beautiful, intelligent woman named Marie-Helene, he becomes a father to two daughters, he gets a job with the government as an agriculturalist (the farming/gardening motif is important throughout). He refuses to speak English and will not acknowledge his American past, even when his daughters become old enough to travel on their own and are curious about their father’s unspoken history. Pierre becomes French to erase everything that came before (and the way this theme dominates the book, it becomes an interesting view about how language and culture shape human society and individual place)…but he can never truly escape the war and the horrors he witnessed and suffered. When Marie-Helene falls seriously ill and their marriage dissolves, Pierre is tormented by guilt and fear. And then Lorraine re-enters his life…and all of Pierre’s buried past rushes up to meet him.
Powerful, tight, lyrical writing, a dramatic plot, and vivid characterization make for a great story, and Carole Giangrande’s A Gardener on the Moon has all of these qualities in spades. Beautifully executed throughout, it’s a quiet, moving portrait of a man struggling with identity and history.