The Impostor Bride: Well-Intentioned

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I think Nancy Richler wanted to write a *good* book. *The Impostor Bride* dances around being good, but lacks rhythm and grace and so slouches awkwardly around the dance-floor, making it awkward for everyone reading, but the effort at goodness is altogether too sincere to turn away.  

The plot offers originality – a war-bride shows up in Canada, is scorned by her betrothed because he sees “something” amiss in her, she marries his brother, gives birth, abandons the child and runs away. We learn over the course of the novel the practical reasons for her abandonment (the titular “impostor”), and are meant, I think, to also contemplate the psychic and affective reasons she might also leave. The book makes a sincere attempt to point the finger at the (oft suggested “unspeakable”) atrocities of the Holocaust as being “too much” for the young bride, but without entering these events – or even shadows of them – into the plot *and* without offering Lily’s narrative point of view (even a third person limited would have gone a long way) these “unspeakable” reasons are left to the reader’s speculation and are not, as Richler might have hoped, compelling enough to justify the abandonment of a child. Indeed, our first person protagonist – the abandoned daughter – rightly points out that many of her peers have parents of this generation of “unspeakable” events who did not leave (even if they do exhibit erratic behaviour), so why did *her* mother leave?

For this reason the plot events that supposedly explain the abandonment do not hold water. Nor does the eventual explanation of how members of her family knew, and didn’t tell her. Nor, too, the hastily and inexpertly constructed reunion scene (not a spoiler, I think, because the progression of the plot is such that it can *only* resolve in a reunion). A note on the reunion (as it particularly irked me as it’s the climax and the apparent justification for so much weaving in and out of time – we’re meant to get *here*): not only were the scenes rushed, especially when contrasted with the earlier scenes that explore in great length everything from depressed smoking to school yard bickering, but the explanation offered by Lily which is in effect the explanation of “I have no explanation,” would be fine, indeed, it would be complicated and profound, if we had Ruth *do* something with the explanation, think something about it, reflect on it, reject it, respond, react. Instead we witness the reunion, hear the paltry account of why she left, find no explanation of the mysterious rocks, hear nothing of Ruth’s reaction or thoughts. 

A plot climax without an attendant climax in character development or theme. And a frustrating plot climax at that because it doesn’t bring a satisfactory explanation (maybe because there isn’t one? not that there isn’t in the world, but because Richler hadn’t imagined what that could be?).

And so I wanted to like *The Impostor Bride* – it had all the elements of Can Lit that I adore: historical fiction, strong female protagonists, World War Two, family drama. And yet, it’s not a book I’d ever take on a second date: far too awkward for the effort.

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner

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